Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


If you get free data, what will you do with it?

Our challenge to you: if you get free data, what will you do with it?

The question has some urgency because if you can think of what you’d like to do with data from the Land Registry, Companies House or the Met Office, then you could be in line to be the first to benefit from it – and show the benefits of making more data free.

The Cambridge report noted three sets of data that could be made free with minimal revenue impact: Land Registry, Companies House, and Met Office.

Let’s revisit them, so you can think what to do with them.

For Land Registry, the analysis only looks at “Property Data Services” – which are the ‘Property Price Data’ and ‘Polygons’, whose respective revenues were £893k, the majority of which was from a bulk form of the product, and £405k. (That compares to Land Registry’s total revenues of XXX, 86% of which comes from compulsory registrations.)

Those, it should be noted, are tiny compared to its revenues. Land Registry’s fee income in 2006/7 was £474million (in 2005/6, £395m). Its costs are very high, but it still had an operating surplus of £96m – nearly as large as Ordnance Survey’s entire revenues.

The reason: you’re obliged to tell LR when you buy or sell land or put a charge (such as a mortgage) on registered land.

The property data could surely be used for some imaginative analysis – though note that Land Registry bans the use of its data for unsolicited mailshots. (An interesting question is how, if one moved to a free data model, one would spot uses which broke rules like that. Would you drop the rule, or include intentionally fake data which would tip you off if you received a mailshot addresses to it?)

Companies House is next: £72m revenue, again almost all from obligatory registrations. (Although search is the most profitable area – as you’d expect: it’s easier to search data than to accept and check it.) Unfortunately most of the data there is marked confidential in the analysis – but again, one can imagine that it might be useful to find people who are persistent directors of companies that aren’t acting lawfully…

Finally there’s the Met Office. Can anyone think what you’d do with a lot of weather data?

More analysis and suggestions of how to use these three organisations’ output data – if it were free – are welcome.

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