The inside story of how Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt kickstarted a revolution in public data sharingby Tom Chatfield / January 27, 2010 / Leave a comment
Above: Tim Berners-Lee at TED2009—demanding “raw data now!”
On 5th January, just before the public launch of data.gov.uk, Prospect’s Tom Chatfield spoke to Tim Berners-Lee about how Berners-Lee helped the government to open up public data. On 7th January, Chatfield spoke to Berners-Lee’s friend and colleague Nigel Shadbolt about his role in the project. The edited highlights of both conversations are below.
The full inside story of the government data initiative is told in the February issue of Prospect, and can be read online by subscribers here. A preview of the article, by James Crabtree, can be read for free on our website here.
Tim Berners-Lee in conversation
Tim Berners-Lee studied physics at Oxford, before working in telecoms and software engineering. In 1989, while working as a fellow at the CERN research centre in Switzerland, he published the academic paper that defined what would come to be known as the world wide web. In 1994, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium, a group devoted to keeping the seething mass of pages he helped to create working together. In June 2009, alongside Nigel Shadbolt, he was appointed as an information advisor to the British government.
Tom Chatfield: How did you come to be working with the British government?
Tim Berners-Lee: It began with a lunch at Chequers, when the prime minister asked me what I felt the UK should do in order to make the best use of the internet, and I said, you should put all your government data onto the web. And he said, okay then, let’s do it. [laughs] So when one has spent a lot of one’s life persuading people to put things onto the web, and persuading people to be open, it’s almost disarming to have somebody say that straight away. The result of that was a team in the Cabinet office of a team under Andrew Stott. Various people in the UK government had experience of this area already, so it was a question of how to accelerate this as much as possible.
TC: I know it’s sometimes felt in the world of online innovation that governments are not the best people for creating radical change. What motivated you to put this effort into working with and within the British government?
TBL: The neat thing about this is that there is such a clear win: the data…