Over the past few days it has been announced that the initial stages of an EU open data platform, envisaged by European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes, is still on track to being released publicly, at least to some extent, in Spring 2012. This initial stage should be in the form of a “public portal for access to government and public data from across the continent”. Once this has been achieved , the next phase of implementation is to construct a community-built, crowd-sourced public data platform for all of Europe.

The first question that needs to be answered is what data will be released through the initial portal or the later data platform.

A new data portal would need to include a small group of very interesting datasets first, the report stated, to attract citizens’ interest early. But then these early datasets would need to be stitched together with bigger datasets, the ownership of which may be indeterminate. Goal #2, the report said, would be to “deeply integrate a small set of very high quality datasets demonstrating immediate value and, in time, capable of acting as a scaffold for the integration of many other datasets. Candidates in this second role are geospatial, transportation, statistical and financial datasets.

Quite what the EU commission deems to be an interesting data set is yet to be determined, but it would at least appear that they are preparing and designing this platform with the data consumer in mind. At least, the y think they are. Quite what data will be released in the end is another question entirely. Secondly, it is good to see that the commission are intending to create datasets that demonstrate value, which hopefully means that we won’t be fobbed off with data that is either utterly pointless in generating, or presented in such a format that a ridiculous amount of time and effort is required to shape the data into something useful.

The (rather short) report that has been released can be found here, but a few interesting challenges that have been recognised in the report are summarised below.

  1. differences in legislation across Member States (for example, data protection laws or laws preventing certain datasets to be stored outside a certain region) need to be addressed
  2. high value data sets are today distributed for a fee and represent a source of income to some administrations
  3. appropriate resourcing to ensure  the stability of the portal, its adequate performance under the expected access patterns and its scalabilit
  4. need to secure high level political support and funding
  5. need to involve citizens and support community building among users of open data
  6. need to involve application providers and software developers as beneficiaries and value multipliers of an open data infrastructure

If done correctly, this will not only open up a fair amount of otherwise difficult to access government data, but also provide an opportunity to create lots of cool ‘mashups’ of open data!