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Apps, App Stores, and Government Data

Olympic Swimming Pool Fast Lane Category:Outdo...
Image via Wikipedia

A short report that I was commissioned to write for the European Public Sector Information Platform has just been published.

The rise of the App: a PSI opportunity? introduces (smartphone) apps and app stores to those in European governments responsible for meeting their obligations under the 2003 Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive.

Unfortunately somewhat tangential to the more recent (and cooler?) enthusiasm for Open Data, governments’ compliance with the PSI Directive has largely failed to engage the community of active and enthusiastic developers who might build compelling tools atop all that data.

Although elected officials might love showing their friends a council-branded iPhone app that knows where all the publicly-funded swimming pools within a single local government area are located, is that really a useful tool for anybody? Would it not be more useful to see the data made available in forms, formats and locations regularly frequented by communities of third party developers? Then you might see all the swimming pools, you might cross (mostly meaningless) local government boundaries, and you might pull in other leisure activities, so that a real user can ask ‘where can I swim?’ or ‘where can I go and have some fun?,’ instead of the rather unlikely ‘where can I swim in a council swimming pool?’ If you care that much about swimming in the pools of your local council, won’t you know where they are? And if you don’t, how likely are you to download an app to answer the question? Once you’ve answered it once (surely a Google query, rather than an app download) the app is useless.

As well as being formally released via council, region, agency and national web sites, should freely reusable public sector data not be actively contributed to Factual, Infochimps and the like? So long as a free copy is available somewhere, is it really a problem if someone else can take that data, add value to it, and make a little bit of money?

Public Sector Information is wide-ranging, comprehensive, and authoritative. It is truly insane for these rich resources not to underpin a wealth of applications originating in both the public and private sectors.

All we need to do is abolish some of the weirder licensing restrictions, disabuse some governments of the idea that PSI will make them rich, and make the data easy to find, easy to select, easy to get, easy to integrate, and easy to keep current. Easy, huh? Let’s do it.

The European Commission recognises that the PSI Directive is due a refresh, and is currently consulting on next steps in this area.

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Paul Miller works at the interface between the worlds of Cloud Computing and the Semantic Web, providing the insights that enable you to exploit the next wave as we approach the World Wide Database.

He blogs at www.cloudofdata.com.