Prospect has uncovered the story behind Tim Berners-Lee's work deep inside British government, and his remarkable success at busting open a closed, data-hugging stateby James Crabtree / January 20, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
Above: Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web
This story is now line for subscribers to read, while an exclusive interview with Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt is available to read free, here.
Before working as an editor at Prospect, I was briefly a civil servant. The experience taught me that most civil servants knew nothing about data, and the few that did were rarely listened to. Most were masters at prevarication when anyone tried to suggest that they open up vital information about schools, housing, health services, to the public; the crown jewel in Britain’s data crown, Ordnance Survey, was especially jealously guarded. So I was a surprised—shocked, even—to learn just before Christmas that the deal was done. An infrastructure for the mass release of data into the public domain was in place: in a few months they would be giving it away for free. How had this minor policy miracle happened? Three words, I was told: Tim Berners-Lee. It seemed the inventor of the world wide web, and one of Gordon Brown’s boldest and unlikeliest appointments of the last year, had winkled open the treasure chest.