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By Spider Online
The Guardian's analysis of the National Audit Office report on the UK Government's Open Data initiative raised a few eyebrows within the Spider office last week. It's certainly got the twittersphere in a spin. I've spent quite a bit of time trawling through a lot of the reaction.
Unfortunately, the type of statistics presented really don't tell the whole story. Even if only a few people ever accessed some data, there is no clarity on the actual value obtained. For example, billions of people do Google searches every day, at very low individual value to Google, so it needs to be a high number to work. On the other hand, if only one company downloads a particular government data-set , uses it internally for research or to guide product development, then the eventual value of that one transaction could be enormous.
As a small example of a hidden benefit of the data being made available, we at Spider have made use of the public transport data-sets to work up some demo stuff that may be of high-value to our company - all be it further down the line. The frictionless aspect of grabbing and re-using the data made this a realistic prospect for us. This type of value will never make it into the NAO figures unless they look beyond the basic statistics - and we cannot be alone in this type of data use.
There is also an education/skills gap at the moment. We at Spider have been working on a project with the Improvement Services, with assistance from the Scottish Government, to provide open access to the data held within the TellMe Scotland portal. Further to opening up the data, we've put together a quick on-line demo to illustrate how the data can be consumed and linked to data sets from Ordnance Survey and the Office of National Statistics (ISPIN Client - Linking TellMe Open Data to Ordnance Survey Data and Mapsl). The hidden values from these activities will be in how we (Spider) then help to share and grow knowledge within the developer community.
My over-arching feeling regarding Guardian article, however, is that it seems to have missed the point somewhat on the reasoning behind the government's open-data agenda. I feel that the government has taken a fresh and brave approach to this by just getting it done and pushing it through. They are not getting bogged-down in the planning and justification stages of endless committees which would see the project strangled at birth. They have learned from big IT policy and project f ailures of the past. They have bought into the mantra of release early and incremental improvements. They are building the rail-roads for a future economy. There are imperfections and issues with what is currently available - aren't there always even with years of planning and analysis - but these will be worked on and improved upon.
Tony O'Grady: Technical Director