As anyone who has followed my writing over the years on various blogs knows, I have a particular bee in my bonnet about Government APIs and freeing all public sector data. Unless there is some absolute secrecy requirement on that data, it should be made available to the Irish people, to do with what they will.
But I have lost lots of hair and gained lots of pounds waiting for it to happen here. I watch in despair as the UK and US race ahead and we sit here without even a bloody working postcode system. Just look at data.gov.uk in the UK or CodeForAmerica in the US.
So do we just sit and wait or do private sector companies and tech communities take the lead and show the Public Sector how it’s done? Do we lead by example rather than just brow-beating?
We’ve already seen it happen, most notably with KildareStreet but also with Loc8 postcodes. People and businesses sick of waiting, solve the problems themselves by taking whatever poor public data there is already and doing something useful with it and on top of it.
There has also been a recent community initiative with opendata.ie to collect together available datasets but it doesn’t seem to have gained much momentum.
So where else can we leverage exisiting datasets and groupings to benefit the country and those elsewhere who care deeply about Ireland?
I think we should look again at the idea I mentioned way back around the diaspora and genealogy. At the moment we have:
- Irish/UK/US historical census data
- National Library records
- Church records
- Geni data
- Ellis Island data
- Mormon Data
- Family Tree DNA Testing
- The living Irish Diaspora and their knowledge of their families
- Ordnance Survey Map data
- OpenStreetMap Data
- Phonebook data
- Irish emigrant groups around the world
- Irish-Americans working in thousands of tech companies
Would it be possible to build an API around this data, starting simply and iterating out? Enabling people to search and mashup by names, dates, locations and Y chromosome? Think of the platforms that such a thing would enable? Now wire that into the social graph!
If there was one co-ordinating organisation concerned with building the relationships needed to get this data and providing the APIs but letting people build any app they want, wouldn’t that be incredibly powerful?
Such an org could co-ordinate with churches to have parishioners transcribe all of records that are still in paper form. They would have the clout to get access to currently-non-public government data. They could then help Government departments and state/semi-state bodies build good APIs on their data.
They could also co-ordinate with all the emigrant groupings in UK, USA and elsewhere to fill in missing holes in records. Colleges could get involved. What about all the Alumni data?
One or two simple but powerful example apps could be built to show what’s possible.