Response to the Public Data Consultation
October 17, 2011
by Christopher Gutteridge
Here is a draft of what I’m planning to send to the Public Data Corporation Consultation. I’m posting it here first to see if anyone suggests any good improvements. I’ll send it in at the end of the week. The consultation closes on October 27th. If you care about public data in the UK maybe you should respond too!
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Update: I went to hand this in today, and it seems that actually the consultation is a bunch of questions which rather threw me. I’ve done my best with it but it feels like answering “how would you like to pay to access the data?”. I am not very happy, it feels like there’s already a plan and they are just rubber stamping it. Sigh.
My basic take is that if data is required by government/council/public sector to run the country, then it’s required by the citizens to live in that country.
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In brief: I believe the UK government should provide all public data with a license which allows free reuse (OGL), in formats which make it easy to work with, and identifiers which allow diverse data to be joined together in new ways. This will increase the wealth of all citizens and visitors to the UK. It will enable people in the UK to make better choices, and live better lives. The work begun by data.gov.uk makes me proud to be British and enables new kinds of benefits unprecedented in human history.
My name is Chrstopher Gutteridge. I am the Linked Data Architect for the University of Southampton. If it wasn’t for data.gov.uk this job title wouldn’t even exist!
I run the Open Data Service for the University of Southampton <http://data.southampton.ac.uk/>. This service was inspired by the UK government project, and has proved beneficial to our organisation with very positive support and feedback from as diverse sources as the Dept. V.C. for Education (Debra Humphis) and the head of our Catering services! By providing easy, open and joined-up access to information from the diverse parts of our organistation it means we improve the experience for our staff, students and visitors. The most beneficial tool using our data, to date, is a map of the university amenities <http://opendatamap.ecs.soton.ac.uk/> was not produced by our paid staff but by one our research students, who was keen to find a way to contribute.
I believe similar benfits and opportunities exist at the national and international level.
There’s two real benefits to the nation. The first is transparency. Allowing anybody to write tools using government data on things like crime, health, education, and other factors about quality of life or services is great — it helps people make informed decisions.
What is also a huge national asset is the fact that we’ve begun to publish catalogs of things in the UK, like postcodes, transport stops, postboxes, schools, parks, roads, etc. I see this as the digital equivalent of standardising UK plug sockets and domestic mains electricity.
If there’s a central way to identify, say, a road then any organisation from Google & Apple down to someone collecting a list of pot holes, they can all use the same code to identify the road. This allows organisations, or citizens, to later join up information from diverse sources to provide new value from existing databases. This is amazing and has so much potential. Not doing this is like allowing every train company to use a different train track gauge.
To use my own work as an example of how powerful this is. I collate information from University Catering on their coffee shops, from the timetable office on what teaching rooms we have, from our buildings and estates dept. on the ID Number, name, architect & year of construction, from the disibility office on the disabled access, and so forth. None of these departments need to talk to each other, but because all the other departments publish data using the building code number defined by buildings and estates I’m able to, very easily, join these up to create a far more useful resource: <http://data.southampton.ac.uk/building/85.html>
I’m very concerned that people might start having to pay to access this data. This will exclude the growing community who create computer and phone applications out of interest and enthusiasm and desire to make something to help people. It will exclude small companies, who can’t afford the risk.
I believe that unrestricted access, under the Open Government License, to all government and council data will make this a better country to live in for everyone.
Charging for government data would be like starting charging people to produce devices which use standard UK mains voltage — a regressive step which I believe woud do more harm than could ever be matched by the income generated.
I have used Linked Open Data to make the University of Southampton a better place. Please continue to do the same for the UK, Europe and the World.
Christopher Gutteridge – University of Southampton – http://users.ecs.soton.ac.uk/cjg/ – firstname.lastname@example.org
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2nd update; I just remembered this idea which I think is a sane compromise to kick start unfettered open data.
Hi, I already made a return to the PDC consultation but forgot to include something.
Christopher Gutteridge. University of Southampton Linked Open Data Architect but speaking as a private citizen.
Nobody yet has seriously investigating corporate sponsorship of open data. For example; getting every public loo in the country into a single database could be sponsored by Andrex. Anybody wanting to use this data would by able to freely use it under the OGL, but would have to credit “Andrex” in addition to the government.
This gives any individual or company unrestricted use of the data. Very large companies may choose to may a substantial fee to waive the requirement to credit the sponsor. I believe some companies call this a “white label” fee.
Admittedly some datasets would be controversial or hard to find sponsorship and it would be important to maintain public trust in the data, but there’s large amounts that this *might* work for and it ends with a better situation for the UK people.
The second any ‘hoops’ are required to to get to data (including API keys, license click-throughs etc.) then the power of it being open is massively reduced.
A very simple example of it being done right; The OS postcode interface to data allows you to view the data as an HTML web page:
but because any tool can access and allow you to explore this data, you can view it in my own data viewer:
or someone else’s
These examples are trivial but show software gaining direct access to the data. Imagine the frustration if most pages on the web made you sign an End User License Agreement before you could view them. It wouldn’t be as good, and nobody would really benefit.
I’m hoping that in the next year or two, things like arts festivals and museums may consider this sponsor-for-attribution model of financing so people could, for example, use the data from Edinburgh Fringe in any phone or web app, but the festival has already made its income by gaining sponsorship of the data, and the sponsors get their return as all users of the data have to attribute them in their apps. This allows an ecology of apps to be created rather than each data source only having a very few. This ecology will lead to innovation and improvements to the user experience. The more the application-creator has to pay for data, the less innovation we’ll see.