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The best commute? Planning applications? There's an app for that

Photos: Turning government data into useful graphics
By Nick Heath, Contributor on
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1 of 7 Nick Heath/ZDNET

Photos: Turning government data into useful graphics

The aim of the data.gov.uk website is to put as much information as possible about UK life into the hands of the UK public.

The site's purpose is to link to all non-personal data collected by government in the UK, and already points to almost 3,000 sets of data, with the intention being to provide access to far more information in the years to come.

Software developers are stepping in to help make sense of this potentially overwhelming mass of data, crafting apps that mash up the info to reveal patterns and present data in a visual way.

Here is a collection of both existing apps and concepts for apps for the data.gov.uk site.

On the concept side web services company ITO have demonstrated a novel way of representing traffic data on the above map, which shows the increase in HGV traffic on English motorways since 2001 using information pulled from Department for Transport data.

Another possible future app can be seen in these maps and timetables below, which show bus links for West Kirby in Merseyside and were generated automatically using software developed by ITO that pulls information from a number of public transport databases.

Image credits: ITO

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Mapumental is an app that works out where in the UK is the best place to live for users to get the smoothest commute into their workplace.

Type in a postcode, say for a place of work or college, and Mapumental will generate a map with the location in the middle as you can see above.

The light area in the centre of the map represents every place where you could live and be able to get to work by 9am with less than one hour's commute time.

Sliders at the top of the map allow you to reduce or increase your commute time and to set the range for the price of homes that you can afford. This will adjust the size of the light area to reflect affordable homes within an acceptable commute time.

The app pulls information from public transport database Traveline and the Land Registry for England and Wales, and plots the data on maps provided by open source mapping project OpenStreetMap.

The app, which demonstrates the potential for future data.gov.uk apps, is only available to invited beta testers at present.

Its development has been supported by 4iP, a body funded by Channel 4 to promote public service media, which is also offering £100,000 to the two organisations that produce the best idea for a government data app.

Image credit: Mapumental

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The UK House Prices app pulls data from the Land Registry to allow people to compare property values from across England and Wales.

The app maps the spread of house prices for areas of the UK over a certain period and drop-down menus allow users to change the period, with data going back to 1996.

The Land Registry data is linked to data.gov.uk and the app is also listed in the data.gov.uk's app store.

Image credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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PlanningAlerts.com is a simple app that flags up any upcoming building developments within an area.

Users simply enter their postcode and their email address and they will receive email alerts every time a new planning application is submitted for that area.

The app pulls information from hundreds of different local authority websites and is linked to from the data.gov.uk app store.

Image credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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Journalist David McCandless gave a presentation at the recent data.gov.uk launch to demonstrate how to use graphics to make complicated data easily digestible.

McCandless showed a number of graphical representations of a number of data sets, such as this image which plots the number of drug-related fatalities against the amount of media coverage that each drug death attracts.

Image credit: David McCandless/informationisbeautiful.net.

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If all these apps and concepts sound a bit too serious then you could always try owlsnearyou.com.

Owlsnearyou.com does exactly what the name suggests, allows people to discover how close they are to owl sightings.

The app pulls data on owl sightings and photos from Flickr and the Google Maps API to plot sightings.

Image credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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This paper pamphlet shows how the data.gov.uk store could benefit people without access to the internet.

The eight-page newspaper contains details of transport links, shops and opening times, health facilities, crime rates and other information for a postcode area.

All of the information is pulled from government databases and then presented in easy-to-understand graphics, maps and tables.

It was produced by publishing company the Newspaper Club to show how, in future, a piece of software could be fed a postcode and then generate all of this information automatically using information from data.gov.uk.

The idea is that this could then be printed out and given to people when they move to a new area.

Image credit: Tom T via Flickr under the following licence

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