Thursday, March 11, 2010

UK address database

Tom Hughes has posted a response to a consultation about releasing Ordnance Survey data in the UK. He gives a very good summary of the current options for licensing open data (we are ourselves trying to figure out how to communicate clearly about this). Along the way, he speaks in favor of a national address register in the UK, for an interesting reason:
I believe that there would be significant benefit to the release of an address product, if only to try and break the current deadlock that apparently exists in government and avoid the current crazy situation where different branches of government appear to be competing with each to maintain their own address databases. Perhaps the craziest product of this infighting is the decision of the Office for National Statistics to create (at a cost of at least 12 million pounds) yet another address database in order to deliver the 2011 census. They then propose to discard that database once the census is complete.
Data often gets stuck in single projects or communities, even with the best of intentions. The Fórum Brasileiro de Economia Solidária, which has done massive well-funded surveys of organizations in Brazil, apparently filters out organizations that don't in the end meet the specific criteria they care about from their searchable, mappable online index. Hopefully the data isn't thrown away, but it certainly isn't easy to get to.

On the one hand, it is great to have a laser-like focus on one's community or project. However it is sad to miss out on the opportunities that collaboration with partially overlapping communities or projects can bring. The benefits are fuzzier and longer-term, but no less real.

However, making data public is hard work, and costly. Lowering that cost is a goal of the DCP. That will make it easier for organizations to justify the decision to divert some resources from achieving their own objectives to helping others achieve theirs, when the benefit to them of doing so is speculative rather than known from precedent.

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