Sir Tim Unveils Slick UK Government Services Site

Move over The United Kingdom has unveiled its own version of an open source database for its citizens, and the U.S. version pales in comparison.

The site,, which has been running in beta since last September, opened to the public this week to much fanfare. The brainchild of Web founder Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt, a professor of computer science at Southampton University, the site provides official data to the public for free.

It also provides tools — such as datasets, design specs, a forum and a wiki — that allow developers to create mashups of the data, or apps, for their own purposes.

Already, there are several hundred apps on the site. Mouseprice, for example, provides free access to Land Registry price-paid data that is matched with estate agency data, Google Maps street views, and Microsoft satellite imagery. Another example is a crime map for Northern Ireland.

Next-Generation Government Customer Service

The U.S. has a few advanced initiatives under way — but nothing close to what the UK government has done, David Johnson, principal of political consultancy Strategic Vision, told CRM Buyer., introduced last year by the Obama Administration, also provides open source data to the public, but it’s not quite as technically polished as the site the UK has created. offers, for instance, searchable catalogs that provide access to “raw” datasets and various tools in such formats as XML, Text/CSV, KML/KMZ, Feeds, XLS, or ESRI Shapefile. A catalog of tools links users to sites that offer data mining and extraction tools and widgets.

“ was the equivalent of putting FOIA online and making it even easier and more accessible,” Johnson said. “I can’t even think of an apt comparison for”

The iTunes model comes to mind, he said.

Eventually, the U.S. government, as well as other governments, will likely follow the UK’s lead, Johnson said — “especially as governments seek to bring in revenue without raising taxes.”

User-Friendly Approach

The U.S. government is pilot testing several systems that give access to low-risk, low-level public information, such as health or social security, using federated identity management technology to maintain privacy and security, said Thomas J. Smedinghoff, a partner in the data security practice group at Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon. The initial use case of these systems — at least in the early stages — appears to be more aimed at improving the average user’s online experience with the federal government.

“A classic scenario would be someone who wants to change information about their Social Security — say, change the bank where it is deposited,” Smedinghoff told CRM Buyer. “That is an easy enough transaction, but the key is security and identity management — making sure you are who you say you are.”

Eventually, the pilots being tested right now could allow the Web site to ensure the visitor is the correct person changing the bank information, he said.

All-Time-High for Index

Indeed, the U.S. government has been investing resources in making its online services as user-friendly as possible. In Q3 2009, citizen satisfaction with federal government Web sites reached an all-time-high, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Government Satisfaction Index. The Index reached 75.2 on ACSI’s 100-point scale, an increase of 2.2 percent since the second quarter and 1.8 percent higher than a year earlier.

The e-government category outperformed online news and information (74), the study found, as well as online brokerage and investment (74), and it just edged out the online travel industry (75).

Scores for some individual sites within the federal government — such as the Social Security Administration and Health and Human Services — surpassed top private sector stalwarts like Netflix and Amazon.

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