UK government wants to mash it up

We’re confident that you’ll have more and better ideas than we ever will.” It’s refreshing to hear this from a government. In this case, this language comes from the UK government, or more specifically, its Power of Information taskforce, which is holding a £20,000 competition for the best idea to build services on top of openly available government information. Ideas are flowing in at a good clip – witness this word cloud of the 150 ideas submitted in the first week of the competition. In a Guardian article, an MP touts his favorite idea to mash up Google Earth and biographical info from Wikipedia with data about so-called Blue Plaques (speaking of Wikipedia, Blue Plaques are UK lingo for “a permanent sign installed in a public place to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person or event”), which would allow users to plan walking tours of cities to visit these intriguing locations.

This initiative, called “Show us a Better Way,” has also attracted considerable interest in the UK museum community. The listserv of the Museum Computer Group continues to be abuzz with e-mail about ideas this particular community could submit to the competition (if you want to follow the discussion, the e-mail archive for July is here). How about a project which would allow users to virtually create their own alternative blue plaques for events and people which aren’t mainstream enough to have their official plaque? How about a service which would let users with a geo-location aware devices surface objects and ideas pertinent to their location? I find that these discussions reflect a desire to make data openly available which I haven’t quite encountered in the same manner in a US context. Witness as well the first Mashed Museum day in the UK, as documented by a blog-post including a video introducing the projects participants were working on.

While the enthusiasm for this sort of work seems great among UK museum technologists (if the Museum Computer Group list can stand in as a proxy), Nick Poole from the newly renamed Collections Trust (used to be mda) also chimed in with a note of caution:

What it has done is throw into sharp relief the slightly embarrassing fact that most public sectors can get together and publish a coherent collective dataset, but we [the museum community] can’t. Whatever the technical solutions and possibilities, we are going to have to find a way of shifting this discourse out of the tech-world and into the head of managers, politicians and funders.

Now that does sound familiar, doesn’t it?