Access to big data from companies operating public services

Posted on December 24, 2014  /  0 Comments

This debate about access to data about railway delays in Britain has interesting implications in other fields such as electricity.

She told me part of the problem is when public services are provided by the private sector; such firms claim that selling data is a revenue stream for them, and ask for public-funded subsidies to make it open. For example, the state-owned Ordnance Survey mapping company has made much of its data open, but takes a £10 million annual subsidy to do so, according to The Indepen​dent. “It’s particularly frustrating when organisations aren’t making much money from it,” Tennison added, noting that the costs of selling data—including lawyers for licensing and enforcing terms—often outstrip any revenue.

Tennison hopes that’s not the case. “What we see and hope for long term is a future where there’s more of an open-data culture,” she said—where open data is published all the time, and is seen as a “thing that people do.” As happened with the web, any organisations that resist such a shift will see alternatives pop up to replace them, she predicted, pointing to crowd-sourced OpenStre​etMap, which offered free maps when Ordnance Survey was still charging.

It’s easy to imagine someone developing a scraper to look for pissed-off tweets from delayed passengers, but it’d be simpler to get the data direct in an open format—or for trains to always run on time. Fire up Twitter, because neither looks likely at the moment.

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