Leading University of Southampton academics, Professor Nigel Shadbolt and the British inventor of the world wide web, Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, have led the development of a ground-breaking new portal: data.gov.uk.
It is a website containing a collection of almost 4000 (and growing) data sets of nonpersonal data from across Government, ranging from education to transport, from government spending to crime.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee has observed: “If data can be published under a Freedom of Information request, why not publish it online? By releasing this data, we can unlock new ideas for delivering public services, help communities and society work better, and let talented entrepreneurs and engineers create new businesses and services.”
Prof Shadbolt commented: “The vision is that citizens, consumers and Government can create, re-use and distribute public information in ways that add value, support transparency, facilitate new services and increase efficiency.”
In September 2009, a beta version of data.gov.uk - developed using open source software and open standards - was released to developers. It contained more than 1100 datasets, ranging from traffic counts to planning applications and from schools reference data to the Farm Survey. Over 1000 people began testing the site and creating applications to bring together information from different sources.
On 21 January 2010, the new portal - data.gov.uk - was launched with a collection of 2500 sets of non-personal data from across the whole of Government. This was a huge achievement. Most notably, it has successfully drawn together data across England, Scotland and Wales. The data format means it can be reused by any individual or business to create innovative new software tools, such as applications providing information on house prices, local schools, amenities and services, or access to local hospitals.
The current Government has been quick to release important new data sets, for example, all central government departments must publish spending above £25,000; local authorities will have to provide data on each item of spending above £500; and police forces have to publish data about crime at the local level.