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10 of the Best Open Data Sources on the Web

The open data movement is changing the way we access information, as well as how we use it. By making data freely available organisations and bodies are benefitting hugely, not to mention the overall positive impact on the economy - research from Lateral Economics found that open data creates 0.5% more GDP than paid data, and the ODI reported that UK companies using or producing open data have a combined turnover of £92 billion annually.

If you're looking to join the many other businesses putting this information to good use, here are our top ten picks for sources of open data online.


What Is It and How Can You Use It?

Open data is simply data that is freely available for anyone to access, use and share. To be considered truly and technically open, the dataset has to be clearly licensed as such and published in an easy-to-use and machine-readable format.

As we'll find out below, there are a wide range of different types of information included in the movement and is therefore useful for a variety of projects and activities. As well as the more obvious purposes such as research for reports and studies, open data could also be used for things like qualifying leads, finding new business opportunities, improving knowledge about target customers, increasing traffic, and carrying out background checks.


10 of the Best Open Data Sources

Whatever you're working on, it's very likely there'll be something here to give it a boost or even inspire a new venture entirely. Without further ado, let's take a look at ten of the best open data sources currently out there...

Best for: Researching anything UK-related, with topics as varied as crime, government spending, business, education and transport.

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Launched in 2010, the platform is one of the most extensive sources for open data in the world, currently containing around 40,000 datasets and growing all the time. It contains information from government departments, public bodies and councils including the Cabinet Office, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Department for Work and Pensions, as well as ordnance survey data.

All of the data is provided in an easy-to-read format that enables it to be reused efficiently.  


2. Global Database

Best for: Gaining a complete overview of a specific company

The business intelligence platform recently made a large proportion of its data public, allowing anyone to access detailed information on over four million companies completely free. Available details include profit and loss accounts, balance sheets, employee details, company size and location, and more. It's ideal for businesses looking to cut costs by qualifying leads or carrying out background checks for free, and there's also a paid subscription option for those looking for credit scores, direct employee contacts and more detailed financials.

The data has been compiled from a number of different sources and is presented in a clear and concise way.


3. EU Open Data Portal

Best for: Statistics covering everything EU-related

The EU Open Data Portal is the poster-child for the EU's open data movement and provides free access to data published within its institutions. The datasets provided include topics such as employment, science and research, the environment, education and the economy, and is provided by bodies such as the Joint Research Centre and the European Environment Agency.

The number of datasets continues to grow, and the platform allows for easy searching, linking and downloading the data for both business and non-profit purposes.

4. Facebook Graph

Best for: Searching for insights on Facebook users

The Facebook Graph API allows you to query all of the information on its users that isn't private. Of course, this can be limiting thanks to many people wising up to personal security and therefore changing their privacy settings, but there's still a huge amount of data that can be explored.


5. NHS Digital

Best for: Learning more about healthcare in the UK.

NHS Digital is the brand name for the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre, which publishes hundreds of statistics-based publications every year, including Official Statistics and National Statistics. The catalogued data covers everything and anything related to healthcare in the UK, including topics such as public health, lines, hospitals, prescriptions, social care, and more.


6. Met office DataPoint

Best for: Developers looking for live data about UK weather

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Met Office's DataPoint provides live and historical data on the UK's weather and climate. The API was designed with website developers and scientific professionals in mind, but anyone can access and use the data for any purpose they see fit. The information available now includes forecast and observation maps, temperature and wind speed and direction, and regularly updated forecasts for the UK, including mountain weather and national parks.


7. Office for National Statistics

Best for: Statistics regarding the UK economy and society

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is an independent office that provides a wide range of statistics for the UK Parliament. It publishes datasets focused around the economy, population, and society, covering topics such as crime and justice, business and energy, agriculture and environment and the labour market.


8. Transport for London

Best for: Anyone looking for live data on London's transport system

As one of the earliest adopters of the open data movement, TfL has now been publishing large amounts of free data for a decade. Over 80 feeds provide real-time data on timetables, service status and updates regarding service disruptions. Not only has the open data made the lives of Londoners a little easier, it's also created a lot of jobs and made a lot of money; research from Deloitte conducted in 2017 revealed that it adds around £130 million to the UK economy every year.


9. Google Trends

Best for: Helping to Determine the market for a specific product or service

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The graph-based feature allows you to find statistics revealing search volume for any specific term since 2004. This information is then broken by countries, regions, cities, and language.


10. Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT)  

Best for: Discovering how people across the globe feel about a specific event.

The GDELT is an interesting source; it collates data on human behaviour and beliefs from countries across the globe. The project's founders describe it as a catalogue "connecting every person, organization, location, count, theme, news source, and event across the planet into a single massive network that captures what's happening around the world, what its context is and who's involved, and how the world is feeling about it, every single day."

It contains data from 1979 up to the present which is easily imported into Excel using a CSV extension.


To Sum Up...

Open data can be extremely useful to any company or organisation, it's just about finding the right source. With more and more providers joining the movement every day, you're sure to find something to give your company's activities a real boost, and it's certainly worth keeping your finger on the pulse in order to stay one step ahead of your competitors.