Archive for October, 2011

Keep UK public data open to drive innovation

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

The UK government is consulting on how to use and make money from data sets managed by the Land Registry, Ordnance Survey and Met Office. Deadline for comments on the proposed new Public Data Corporation is Friday.

Prompted by the Open Rights Group, I wrote and submitted some comments:

I am very concerned that it seems the government is taking a short-term, cash cow view of how best to use the public data resources of the Land Registry, Ordnance Survey and Met Office.

The Public Data Corporation does not and cannot know what socially useful and/or profitable uses these raw data sets will be put to. It’s not your job to (inadvertently) constrain the business and social models that will emerge to use the data in as yet undreamed of ways. It IS your job to make that data available to the greatest number of people and organisations to create the greatest possible amount of social and economic ultility.

Let me give you an example.

Have you heard of Ushahidi? It is a Kenyan IT platform (free for anyone to use and develop) that allows people to use mobile phones to gather real time data in times of emergency and send it to a distributed network of people who tie that data to publicly available maps. It has demonstrably saved lives in the Haiti earthquake, the Chilean earthquake last year and, less so because the government just could not get its data-sharing act together, the Pakistan flood disaster. It’s being rolled out in Thailand this very minute.

Ushahidi and a network of people supported by The World Bank and Google (and many more) saves lives using publicly available open data sets tied to user technology. This is not science fiction; it just sounds like it because it’s something no one could have imagined before it was created.

If you cut access to raw public data sets, you will kill off emerging technology and data innovations, kill off jobs created by innovation, and shut down the ability of distributed users and technology to do things you cannot yet dream of.

Please act now to support innovation and creativity. We literally cannot imagine when we might need the data to save not just jobs but human lives.