The British government is opening up a wealth of UK government-held non-personal data with the official opening of data.gov.uk. Created with the help of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, data.gov.uk will publish government data using the Semantic Web-friendly Resource Description Framework (RDF) data model, making it easily accessible from a wide variety of applications. The site, shown below, just went live today, and already there are nearly 3000 datasets available.
The UK government has been making strides with open data before, such as last year's launch of the Show Us a Better Way site, which has been fostering some creative ideas, including a number of practical applications like Fix My Street and SchoolGuru.
Data.gov.uk comes as part of a greater push, both by government and individuals, to provide easy access to government data. The US has a similar site, data.gov, as part of their commitment to open data, and Tim Berners-Lee has been calling for public access to structured government data for some time:
Government data is being put online to increase accountability, contribute valuable information about the world, and to enable government, the country, and the world to function more efficiently. All of these purposes are served by putting the information on the Web as Linked Data. Start with the "low-hanging fruit". Whatever else, the raw data should be made available as soon as possible. Preferably, it should be put up as Linked Data. As a third priority, it should be linked to other sources. As a lower priority, nice user interfaces should be made to it -- if interested communities outside government have not already done it. The Linked Data technology, unlike any other technology, allows any data communication to be composed of many mixed vocabularies. Each vocabulary is from a community, be it international, national, state or local; or specific to an industry sector. This optimizes the usual trade-off between the expense and difficulty of getting wide agreement, and the practicality of working in a smaller community. Effort toward interoperability can be spent where most needed, making the evolution with time smoother and more productive.
The reactions to the new site are positive, with a growing number of applications and even more ideas on how to use this data. Data.gov.uk provide a list of resources for developers looking to use their data, with a forum and wiki providing additional support.