Today saw the release of, the government data website spearheaded by Tim Berners-Lee which hopes to collate government data and make it available for people to build on.

Although it is clearly aimed at developers, it is my hope that innovative and genuinely useful tools will quickly start popping up as entrepreneurs get to grips with this new wealth of information.

The launch has triggered a fair amount of buzz, and a flurry of blog posts elsewhere which do a much better job at explaining the ins and outs of the site than I have time to.

Personally, I think this is a good step in the right direction. It is also good to see that they have opted to go ugly early – publishing the raw data so we can begin hacking straight away – rather than wait until their cathedral-like semantic web interface is perfect.

True, while the data is in this state it is not so useful to the wider world – yet. Projects such as Scores on the doors have proven that turning raw data into something useful can be a useful and profitable undertaking, so I’ve no doubt that this will change.

The biggest disappointment is the choice to release much of the data under crown copyright. While this was almost certainly a compromise to get anything to happen at all, it would have been nice if the government had taken the bolder step and released it unencumbered and let the economy profit from it.

I would also like to see more local authorities opening up their data, moving away from the idea that everything has to be centralised.

Still, the new site follows a general positive trend of data glasnost which has already seen the promise to open up the postcode database, and in that spirit I welcome it.

Image “New, Improved *Semantic* Web!” by Duncan Hull