Home Open Government: Berners-Lee and the UK to Show Obama How It’s Done

Open Government: Berners-Lee and the UK to Show Obama How It’s Done

“So that government information is accessible and useful for the widest possible group of people, I have asked Sir Tim Berners-Lee who led the creation of the world wide web, to help us drive the opening up of access to Government data in the web over the coming month.” Can’t you picture Barack Obama making that statement? He didn’t though; that was the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a statement about electoral reform, according to a report from Charles Arthur of the Guardian.

Berners-Lee, a man whose invention of the web has had a greater impact on humanity than all but a handful of inventions over the last 50 years, is now one of the world’s leading advocates not just for government data on the web but for free public access to raw bulk data that anyone can process for analysis and mashups. While the new Obama administration has made big promises about open government, it may now quickly find itself falling behind the UK.

Open government data means increased accountability for politicians and increasingly innovative services for the public. If search is the killer app for web pages linked together and email was the killer app for open messaging protocols, some kind of comparable killer apps could well be built on top of developer access to the huge stores of data about our world that the governments currently hold close to their chests.

The Obama administration has had a mixed record so far in terms of opening up government data. The launch of Data.gov was widely celebrated, though we found it too limited an offering. The Democrat controlled Senate finally opened up its voting record in machine readable XML format last month (that’s great), but the nominee for the first federal CTO position faced zero questions about data transparency in his congressional hearings (that’s bad). The White House said yesterday that it has clearly heard the public call for more open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces filled with open data) – so things certainly won’t be standing still on this side of the Atlantic either. US CIO, Vivek Kundra, wrote an excellent blog post on the challenges and opportunities of open government data on Monday.

Having Berners-Lee on the team should be a huge boost for the UK government efforts, though. Most recently Berners-Lee made headlines for (trying to) lead the TED conference of global thought leaders in a chant of “Raw Data Now!” That conference was the same one where Bill Gates opened a jar full of mosquitoes into the crowd like a mad man, so that the elite group could get some feeling of the fear associated with malaria like so many millions of other people feel.

In other words, Berners-Lee is a hard core advocate of open data. It’s hard to imagine a more high profile move for a government to take than to announce that he’s coming on board to help the effort.

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