Register revision

Last week the FCO, in partnership with the Data team at GDS, launched the first official ‘register’ for country names. This is a big achievement and is a significant step in building up the reality of ‘data as infrastructure’ in the UK.

A year ago though I wouldn’t really have understood why this was important or even really what it was all about. The first time I’d ever really even given it any thought at all was a conversation with Paul Downey at OpenTech last summer. Paul has been the architect of a lot of the thinking behind this work and he patiently talked me through his ideas and showed me a really early ‘alpha’.

In the following months Paul started to channel some kind of Gotham city villain obsessed with lists but also published a series of blogposts that further explained the thinking behind ‘registers’ –

I read (and re-read) all these posts slightly chipping away at my ignorance bit by bit but also because I could feel an itch in the back of my mind that even beyond the ‘registers’ themselves there was going to be lessons for me to learn here just about presenting data via the web for both people and machines.

So here I am now checking out the register of registers site and the first register and the first thing I realise I need to do is get a brain upgrade so I can properly understand Merkle trees and how they guarantee the integrity of the register. This seems really important and from my minimal viable understanding could have wider implications for increasing trust in open data sources as it seems to create trusted versions at a machine readable level. If that is right (and I could be way off — like I said — I need a brain upgrade) I can immediately think of why that might be useful.

Elsewhere there is also the access to each register via a multitude of formats (CSV, TSV, YAML, JSON, HTML and TTL) is something we have been working towards already but this is a neat implementation. I’m even willing to let the inclusion of the TTL (i.e. RDF) pass — and you know that isn’t easy for me.

The proof in the pudding will of course be whether people use this ‘data infrastructure’ as part of the building blocks for services and it will be interested to see how that is monitored and how you provide a truly user-focused service for something like this.

The fact it is a distributed system with different Departments responsible for individual registers but presented via a central website is also interesting — I wonder how that will work if/when ‘owners’ fall outside of the GOV.UK website community? Something else of interest to me.

Anyway this was a long post to basically say congratulations to all concerned, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next and I hope that brain firmware upgrade isn’t far away.

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