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UK gov cuts ribbon on public datasets site

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The Cabinet Office has officially taken the wraps off its data.gov.uk web portal, which is intended to serve as a central repository for British citizens to gain access to some government data.

In true government style the site almost immediately was swamped by people eager to mash up the people's data.

It launched with more than 2,500 datasets that can be used by developers to create software tools such as apps about house prices, local amenities and services, or access to local hosptials for businesses and individuals, said the CO.

The website - which carries the governese tagline "unlocking innovation" - buckled a few times under the strain of a flood of visitors since launch this morning, but appears to have flickered back to life now.

In October last year UK.gov called on developers to consult the Cabinet Office on a prototype version of the website that would open some government datasets to the public.

It asked the developer community to get involved in shaping what apps, data sources and features the website should contain. Around 2,400 people took part in the preview.

Developers created a number of apps in the past few months that included a video showing traffic flows and congestion on the motorway network over the past decade, and a "postcode newspaper" that details the different public services available in a local area.

The CO said other people could now also get involved with shaping data.gov.uk's apps because the site will be using an open licence, allowing government-owned data to freely reused by anyone to mash up.

“Freeing up public data will create major new opportunities for businesses. By allowing industry to use data creatively they can develop new services and generate economic value from it," said Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for UK firms to secure better value for money in service delivery and to develop innovative services which will help to grow the economy.”

However, the government offered no hint about the contentious postcode address file (PAF) that's held by the state-owned Royal Mail.

As The Register has previously noted, the UK's largest postal service has remained resolute about its data and who owns it.

"Royal Mail invests significantly in collating and maintaining the Postcode Address File (PAF) and this cost is recovered in an independently regulated licensing," the carrier told us in December.

Despite Prime Minister Gordon Brown reiterating last month that the government planned to get the Ordnance Survey to open up some postcode data from April 2010. That commitment appeared to fall short of the PAF database, which in 2007 pulled in £1.6m in licensing fees for the Royal Mail.

In May 2009 the US launched its own data.gov website with significantly fewer datasets than the British government's effort, which was backed by everyone's favourite web celeb Sir Tim Berners-Lee. ®

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