I’ve long been a believer in opening up sources of data. As far as possible, we try to practice what we preach by supplying feeds of courses, news stories, events and so on. We also make extensive use of our own data feeds so I’m always interested to see what other people are doing. Over the last year there has been growing support for opening up data to see what can be done with it and there’s potentially more exciting stuff to come.
A big part of what many consider to be “Web 2.0” is open APIs to allow connections to be made and they have undoubtedly let to the success of services like Twitter.
Following in their footsteps have been journalists, both professional and amateur, who are making increasing use of data sources and in many cases republishing them. The MPs expenses issue showed an interesting contrast in approaches. While the Daily Telegraph broke the story and relied on internal man power to trawl through the receipts for juicy information the Guardian took a different route. As soon as the redacted details were published, the Guardian launched a website allowing the public to help sort through pages and identify pages of interest. Both the Guardian and the Times have active data teams releasing much of their sources for the public to mashup.
The non commercial sector have produced arguably more useful sources of data. MySociety have a set of sites which do some really cool things to help the public better engage with their community and government.
In the next few months there looks set to be even more activity. The government asked Tim B-L to advise on ways to make the government more open and whether due to his influence or other factors there are changes on the horizon.
- After a website was shut down for providing free postcode information – and the data was subsequently released on WikiLeaks, the Royal Mail have finally decided to release it anyway .
- The Ordnance Survey – arguably the finest mapping agency in the world – are to, perhaps begrudgingly, open up some of their products to free use. Yesterday they published a consultation document on the issue.
- Conservatives and Labour are battling to be seen as the most open parties by opening policy documents to public scrutiny.
But it’s set to be the election, which must be held before [June], which could do the most. Data-based projects look set to pop up everywhere. One project – The Straight Choice – will track flyers and leaflets distributed by candidates in order to track promises during and after the election. Tweetminster tracks Twitter accounts belonging to MPs and PPCs and has some nice tools to visualise and engage with them.
I believe there will be an increasing call for Higher Education to open up its data. Whether that’s information about courses using the XCRI format, or getting information out of the institutional VLE in a format that suits the user not the developer, there is lots that can be done. I’m not pretending this is an easy task but surely if it can be done it should because it’s the right thing to do.
Since I started writing this entry a few days ago, the Google Blog post on The Meaning of Open. Of course they say things much better than I could, so I’ll leave you with one final quote:
Open will win. It will win on the Internet and will then cascade across many walks of life: The future of government is transparency. The future of commerce is information symmetry. The future of culture is freedom. The future of science and medicine is collaboration. The future of entertainment is participation. Each of these futures depends on an open Internet.
Let’s do our bit to contribute to that future.