Free Our Data: the blog

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

Is the campaign won? What do you think?

Choices by anemoneprojectors.

Choices. Photo by anemoneprojectors on Flickr. Some rights reserved
Simon Rogers writes at the Guardian about the release of a snapshot of the Treasury’s COINS (Combined Online Information System):

“known universally as Coins [it] is the most detailed record of public spending imaginable. Some 24m individual spending items in a CSV file of 120GB presents a unique picture of how the government does its business.”

Although that’s because it was presented in UTF-16, which would be great if it were encoding Mandarin (in-joke?), but which actually meant that every second byte was blank – so the Guardian’s developers simply did a quick conversion to UTF-8, halving the size at a keystroke.

He notes:

“This is a different kind of database. It shows how the government actually works; the millions of tiny items that make up the billions of public expenditure every year. It could well be the government’s largest database: if you know of anything of equivalent size and complexity let us know – we can’t come up with anything.”

And then he comments:

“It was only 2006 that the Guardian launched the Free Our Data campaign to push for the government to release public data that we’ve paid for but was previously hidden behind paywalls or official secrecy. Now, that battle is won.”

That’s an interesting one. For me, Coins isn’t actually the marker for the point where we can hang up our campaigning clothes. The Ordnance Survey data release was a huge step. But actually, for me the point at which I’ll feel we’ve really reached the parts that we want to reach is when the Environment Agency makes its flood map data available for free commercial re-use. (I haven’t asked Mike Cross. Perhaps he’ll pitch in.)

But what do you think? It’s your campaign too. Is everything that needs to be done, done? Or is there more to be done, and if so, what?

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