Thursday, July 31, 2008

Free Our Data

"Web 2.0 represents a historic opportunity to break down government's familiar walls of secrecy."
Neil Pierce, The Denver Post.

On both sides of the Atlantic there have been increasing calls for national and local government to open up data. The experience of Web 2.0 suggests that if governments allow free access to the reams of data that is collected on the public's behalf then the public will combine and mash-up that data in new and revealing ways.

In the UK the British government has recently established a Power of Information Task Force and a competition called Show Us A Better Way with a £20,000 prize fund to develop ideas suggested by the public that "will improve the way public information is communicated."

I'm sure that the Power of Information Task Force competition is partly the government's response to the Free Our Data campaign in the UK run by The Guardian newspaper. In the US the Open Govenment Working Group is running a similar campaign and they have created a good wiki of open source projects in the United States.

This week the British government announced that by the end of this year,

"Every neighbourhood in England and Wales will have access to the latest local crime information through new interactive crime maps."

One of the best examples of interactive crime maps is CrimeReports. CrimeReports has been adopted by police departments in fifteen states in the US. CrimeReports tags individual crimes on Google Maps so that residents are easily able to visualise crime and policing in their neighbourhood. The site has been frequently cited by UK political parties as the type of crime map that should be available in the UK.

In the UK the London Profiler is one of the best map mash-ups of data. It is the work of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Awareness (CASA) at University College London. With the London Profiler it is possible to make some very specific visual comparisons on a map of health, education, crime, culture and house prices. London residents are able to use the London Profiler to explore their neighbourhoods and visualise and compare data that directly effects their lives.

In the US government information specialist David Stephenson has been calling for "transparent government". Stephenson says that,

"Beyond shedding light on how government operates, far-reaching and unprecedented change can result when we make reams of data available, plus tools to portray them visually."

In a recent speech Stephenson gave a number of examples of how individuals and groups have mashed-up data in interesting and illuminating ways. Two of the examples he gives are built on Google Maps:

Incident1 maps police, fire, and emergency incidents from around the US. The map shows the most recent incident from each region. It is also possible to see a detailed map of the incidents for your area by entering your zip code or by selecting a region from a list.

IllegalSigns is a Google Map dedicated to mapping illegal billboards in the Toronto area. Neill Pierce cites IllegalSigns as an example of a website that "holds city government accountable for action".

Stephenson has called for government agencies to release data on a real-time basis. He gives the example of the District of Columbia's Citywide Data Warehouse, which uses RSS feeds to release data from 150 sources, ranging from crimes to pothole reports. In the UK the British government have created a Public Sector Information Unlocking Service. The idea in principle is that if you have any problems accessing public information then you can contact the unlocking service and they will strive to gain you access.

As governments and politicians wake up to the fact that opening up data may lead to innovative new ideas more freedom of access to public information does seem to be occurring. This of course provides great opportunities for map developers.

If you want some ideas of what can be achieved with that data you just need to browse through some of the wonderful Google Maps mash-ups that are featured in the right hand column of this page.

Reference

Public Data -Power in Our Hands - David Stephenson of Stephenson Strategies
Let our Data Go Free - Neal Pierce, The Denver Post

Update

In the UK the Royal Mail has also just agreed to make available for free its Postcode Address File for the purposes of the Show Us A Better Way competition. Hopefully this is just the first step in opening up the data completely. The file is the most up-to-date and complete address database in the UK, containing more than 28m addresses.

CrimeMapping have left a comment to promote their crime map. We had a fully look at Crimemapping and a few other crime maps at the beginning of July. You can read the review here.

I have also received an e-mail from UCrime to inform me about their service mapping crime on university campuses. I hope to do a fuller review of their site in the next couple of weeks.

I also hope to do a full review of Habitmap who also e-mailed about their new community mapping and social networking platform.
Post a Comment