Zach Beauvais

Britain 2.5

Written by Zach Beauvais

Jun 17, 2009

Originally appeared on Nodalities Blog:

It’s hardly new for this blog or our community to cover issues of open access and making information useful for users. But, what if we were to begin speaking in terms  such as: “A call for transparency,” or subtly replace user with citizen?  With little substantive shift of core meaning, the whole message becomes one of rights, responsibilities, and public duty.

I’ve been watching this week as the ember at the heart of this dialogue has been fanned with air-time on mainstream media, and is about to receive its fuel. First, UK Prime Minister Gorden Brown asked Sir Tim Berners-Lee  “to help us drive the opening up of access to Government data in the web over the coming months” appointing him to a special role advising Parliament. In an interview with BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, Sir Tim discussed his position; explaining that he’s pushing for transparency: “This is our data. This is our taxpayers’ money which has created this data, so I would like to be able to see it, please.”

Sir Tim had the audience at the tech-friendly TED conference chanting “Raw Data Now” back in February, and he’s now been invited by a sitting government leader to make this happen.

This week also saw the publication of the Digital Britain report, outlining Parliament’s plans for a more connected future. I must admit, for the record, that I haven’t read all 239 pages of the report (made available via, rather, I’ve skimmed it and read several overviews. The gist seems to be that the UK plans to invest in the future of its citizens’ internet connectivity, upgrading existing infrastructure and providing access where there currently isn’t. This investment will cover both wired broadband provision (with a stated aim of 2MBps minimum for every household) and wireless, encouraging investment in 3g provision by allowing mobile companies to have their network licenses more permanently.  It recommends subsidising development wherever the market can’t provide; seemingly equating net access with public utilities (The PM further clarified his thoughts by saying the Internet is as vital as water or gas). More information on this report can be found on the summary page at the Guardian, on twitter: hashtag #digitalbritain, and Bill Thompson’s tech-centric overview.

All this week needs is a major announcement of something moving entirely to cloud-computing to look a bit like the convergence I blogged about a few days ago ;).

So, what has this incredible week brought us? It’s a governmental lead on opening up access to data. Their appointment of TBL makes me think that it’s likely we’ll see more and more linked-data projects coming from the public sector (not just access to, but usable, linked data). Over the next few years, the UK plans to improve its infrastructure and incentivize development on communications networks, and they’ve begun to use language suggesting that being part of the network and access to Public data are rights issues.

Sir Tim spoke, in the interview, about beginning with low-hanging fruit: pilot schemes which open up data and watch what happens.

What are you building?

Image: “Sparks”, by Steven Wong via flickr; Creative Commons By, Share Alike License

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