Last week I came across the guardian.co.uk’s Data Store for the first time (along with its companion Data Blog). If you haven’t visited I can recommend it as a splendid use of the Scott Trust’s money. It’s free to you and me.
The idea is simple enough. Using web 2.0 technology, guardian.co.uk aims to make ‘important data more accessible to people’, by publishing facts and figures from publicly available data sources, and encouraging users to analyse, re-interpret and share the results. The site even invites you to mashup the data, which as far as I can tell is a bit like a fry up but with more potato and a lot less saturated fat.
Now if truth be told, I don’t have a statistical bone in my body (unless, of course, you count my digits). Nonetheless I find this a really exciting development. There’s even a Guardian Data Talk Group, ‘to discuss data, tools, formats, standards, how to use the data The Guardian publishes, where to get it, etc.’. Judging by the archive, the Group hasn’t seen that much activity since it came online in late February, but it’s good to know it’s there should the need ever arise. I’ll certainly be chipping in.
If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with the usual film-related themes of BPR posts, I only came across the Data Store by chance while chasing a link to Charles Arthur’s technology blog post about music piracy, in which he uses Data Store numbers to advance the idea that file sharing is not cannibalising music sales to the extent claimed by the music industry.
Arthur contends the decline in music revenues since 1999 has been driven by people switching their spending to other forms of entertainment, notably video games and DVDs. It’s a plausible idea, although as presented it remains only a correlation that may in reality be no more substantial than the view he seeks to challenge. (What if people are spending more on video games because they can get their music for free?). But I think we should welcome the fact these issues are being raised and debated within the context of a growing community of data sharers and mashup artists (now there’s an image to conjure with). So three cheers for guardian.co.uk.
All this has set me thinking that it would be great if all public agencies made their data available like this, actively encouraging users to analyse and share results in interesting and novel ways, rather than issuing statistics in static publications and news releases. Even if they don’t have the web 2.0 infrastructure to do it themselves, perhaps public data owners should donate their holdings to the Data Store, or equivalents. This would deliver genuine public value, and the quid pro quo is that data owners may even learn something new about the information they hold, if enough people run inspired and innovative analyses.
Anyone who has ever visited the lamentably labyrinthine and obstructive web site operated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) surely must agree that a bit of community datasourcing (crowdsourcing for anoraks like me) has got to be an improvement. The Data Store has left me hungry for more.
Pie chart and mashup, anyone?