UK launches Data.gov counterpart

The United Kingdom's version of Data.gov puts the U.S. effort to shame, according to some technology reports. In particular, Marhsall Kirkpatrick, writing at the blog ReadWriteWeb, says that the British site, launched Jan. 20, "already has more than three times as much data than the U.S. site offers today."

The U.S. government launched Data.gov on May 21, 2009, and Kirkpatrick was critical of it right out of the gate. "New federal [Chief Information Officer] Vivek Kundra is in charge of the site, which will act as a central repository for government data, including XML, CSV, KML files and more. At launch a mere 47 datasets are included, and they appear to lean towards the least controversial matters," Kirkpatrick wrote at the time.

Now, he writes, Data.gov still has fewer than 1,000 datasets available, while Data.gov.uk is launching with more than 3,000.

Kirkpatrick praises the British government's efforts to bring transparency to government and to engage citizens in helping advance technology. Then he moves to critique the American effort. "The U.S. government, on the other hand, has been lackluster in its move to open data to facilitate outside innovation," he writes. "If Twitter is the poster child for building a thriving ecosystem around a streaming set of data, then the Obama administration has earned about 140 characters worth of praise for its fledgling efforts so far."

Kundra, while not directly addressing the claimed superiority of the U.K. site, posted an entry to the White House blog reporting the launch -- and reporting a vastly different number of datasets.

"Taking a page from our efforts here in the Obama administration, the United Kingdom today launched Data.gov.uk – a site to aggregate datasets from the U.K. government.  It is exciting to see the seeds of openness, accountability and transparency taking root around the world," Kundra wrote.

"When we launched Data.gov here at the White House Web site in May 2009, we had just 47 datasets online," Kundra wrote. "It was a modest start, but the growth we’ve seen has been phenomenal. Today, there are more than 168,000 datasets online, and federal agencies are poised to publish new high-value information this week as the next step in the administration’s Open Government Initiative."

In response to an e-mail inquiry, Marshall explained the different numbers this way: "Data.gov has 969 records of 'machine readable, platform-independent datasets.' It also has [approximately 167,000 geodata records, almost all maps. That's a convenient way to say there are 168k datasets, but a big map dump doesn't seem that compelling to me. Maybe I'm wrong -- but when I see the UK site sharing data sets like soldier suicides and number of abortions, that makes a big dump of geological maps on the US site seem anemic."

Anna Leach, writing at tech blog ShinyShiny.tv, lists a number of positive effects of the U.K. site, including increased access of citizens to services and more rapid release of information that previously required requests under the U.K. Freedom of Information Act. However, she said it could cost some administrative jobs in government offices.

Government Computer News reported last year on the U.K. development effort, saying that the Brits' use of semantic Web technnologies might give that country's site a technological edge over the U.S. version.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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