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Berners-Lee opens government data website

Free access to public data now online

Web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee has launched a new government website which aims to provide free public access to official data such as traffic statistics, crime reports and local authority planning information.

The new site, data.gov.uk, has been running in beta since September 2009 and Berners-Lee has been overseeing development since June last year, following an invite from Prime Minister Gordon Brown to take part in the project.

The aim of the site is to encourage developers to find ways to make novel uses of public information, and ten applications have already been produced so far.

Included in data.gov.uk's apps list are tools to help people find nearby pharmacies and dentists, a site displaying historical house price data, and a service which searches local authority planning websites and emails subscribers details of any applications in their area.

"It's just such an untapped resource," Berners-Lee told the BBC. "Government data is something we have already spent the money on ... and when it is sitting there on a disk in somebody's office it is wasted."

The site invites people to submit ideas for how public data could be mashed up and presented.

"A lot of this is about changing assumptions," professor Nigel Shadbolt of Southampton University, who helped develop the website, told the BBC. "If [the data] can be published under an FOI (Freedom of Information) request why not publish it online?"

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