Government’s open-data portal at risk of becoming a data dump

The scale of buy-in required by State bodies to make the Government’s open-data plan a success is likely to be an issue

Fri, Jul 25, 2014, 01:20

The Government’s new open-data portal is not yet where it would like it to be, Minister Brendan Howlin said in a Department of Public Expenditure and Reform meeting room earlier this week.

In case expectations are too high, the word “pilot” is in italics when you visit the site in question – data.gov.ie.

Meanwhile the words “start” and “beginning” pepper the conversation with the Minister and a variety of data experts from the Insight Centre in NUI Galway who have helped create the site.

Data.gov.ie allows those in the Government, as well as interested businesses and citizens, to examine data from a variety of public bodies, opening opportunities for Government efficiencies and commercial possibilities along the way.

The main problem is that there is not much of it, and a lot of what is there can’t be utilised in a particularly useful fashion.

As director of the US Open Data Institute Waldo Jaquith told The Irish Times, with “almost no data” available in a format that’s genuinely usable by app developers, businesses or interested parties, for the moment data.gov.ie represents “a haphazard collection of data”.

Dermot Daly, founder of Dublin-based app developers Tapadoo, who previously used open data released from the Dublinked “datastore” project – which opened up data from the capital’s four local authorities – to help build a Dublin Bus app was also concerned as he made his way through the data available thus far.

“If I look at [data.gov.ie] most of the data formats they offer are HTML or PDF,” said Daly, who explained that this means “they’re either web pages or documents and they’re things which are not easily consumed by applications”.

Not useable

What Daly is getting at is that there’s not a lot of it that’s machine readable. Developers, businesses and even other departments or local authorities need all the information to be in a data format “that’s really easy to parse and consume”, and in turn actually useful.

For the data already housed in these awkward formats on data.gov.ie, he adds that “there’s no quick way” of transferring it into a format that will help this overdue open-data project fulfil its role.

Five years on from the UK data repository launch (data.gov.uk), after the guts of two years of talking about it, the Irish open-data portal is also following the example of a number of US states as well as cities such as Helsinki and Cape Town.

However, on the plus side for Minister Howlin and his colleagues, they should be aware that, when it comes to open data, aside from the odd superb example, they don’t have much to live up to. “Most of them are quite bad,” said Jaquith.

Data.gov.ie, it is hoped though, will become a hub for data from all departments, local councils and other arms of Government. So far it contains 418 datasets – which takes a variety of documents, web pages or other formats that Daly spoke about, as well as some machine readable data.

Over 18 months since Minister Howlin announced Ireland’s intention to explore and implement open Government in his budget speech, the result thus far is a somewhat basic search engine of the data available.

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