Gordon Brown, the U.K. prime minister has announced a “modern Domesday book for the 21st century” – a list of all the non-personal data held by the government which can be released. All departments will have to publish data or provide full details as to why they cannot. Furthermore, he's put Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the greatest evangelist of data freedom and web 2.0, at the helm of a new £30 million "Institute of Web Science." Many governments already have their respective data banks but by promising all public data, Mr Brown is heralding new levels of data sharing. It's great to see governments prioritising data availability like this as it will benefit both the public and private enterprises. The public will benefit from a better informed press holding the government accountable for real data rather than general perception and anecdotal evidence. People will be empowered in their choice of services, with the quality of schools, hospitals and local services being easy to research. Private companies will also use the data to identify areas where public services such as transport links are lacking and rapidly fill the gaps.
In addition to more general benefits, the widespread availability of government data presents both opportunities and challenges for business intelligence. Companies looking only at their internal data will soon fall behind as sharp businesses mix public data into their private sources to give them a better view of their markets, their customers and themselves. For example, a company producing house alarms may cross their current sales data with government figures for crime, policing, ethnic mix, house price and just about any other public measure they can think of to find untapped markets and to better profile their customers.
The big challenge will be knowing where to stop.