Free our data!

The Guardian have been running a campaign for the past 2 years to free public information that tax payers have paid to collect but the government currently charges for. Coincidentally, this is nearly as long as Fubra has been interested in making such data available for free.

Free House Prices

We launched our first free data service back in January 2005 with a house price information service called A month earlier, the Land Registry had announced that they were going to be selling all the price paid data that they collect in bulk. I spotted this and gave my business partner Brendan a call. Together we agreed that we would buy all the data, but rather than resell it on (as the Land Registry had expected us to do), we would give it away to users for free, and make a little money from advertising.

We were the first site to commit to giving this data away for free forever, and this decision went down incredibly well with our users. Within a week we had 100,000 nosey neighbours signed up to the site. Seeing it’s success, a host of other sites soon joined in the free data party.

Free Petrol Prices

Later that year we spotted another opportunity to give away some data. The AA’s petrolbusters site had closed down, and there was a gap in the market for a petrol price information site. Brendan made a few calls to find a supplier for the data, and within week or two we had launched

We linked these 2 sites together with a single login (which we call the Fubra Passport), and in the 3 years we have been running them they have grown to have almost 2.5 million subscribers. People love our regular house and petrol price alerts, so they can see what’s going on near them, but this is just the start.

Free our data

If the government were to make more data available we would literally jump at the chance to build more services for our users. I’ve suggested some of my ideas for re-using Land registry data to Charles Arthur and Michael Cross at the Guardian and they published these today:

  • A property metadata service, calculating building and land area for all UK properties. Would allow people to know the price per sqm that properties were on sale for.
  • A land use timeline, showing building growth through time overlaid on a map.
  • Identifying building plots for self-builders by finding properties with large gardens within a local development plan.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. It took me about 5 minutes to come up with these ideas, but I’m sure if I sat down with the rest of my team for just an hour we could think of hundreds more. The point is that there are an infinite number of innovative uses for our data that are just waiting to be built, but they will only be realised if the data is made free and open. These ideas will create new businesses, new jobs, and therefore boost our economy.

That is why we must commend Charles and Michael (and the Guardian) for pursing this issue. I’m confident that with continued effort, the dream of free data will become a reality.

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