Introducing The Data Place

Together with Lucy Knight and Simon Gough I’ve been working on various data-related projects for over two years: from communicating the benefits of open data as a Node of the Open Data Institute to exploring the real-time data implications of connected devices as ThingsCamp. And one of our ongoing projects has seen us working with Plymouth City Council to support their excellent Data Play events.

In that time we’ve been generally frustrated by a lack of suitable platforms for data publishing; and by “suitable” I mean affordable, accessible, flexible and available enough to suit our requirements: ranging from short-term projects to permanent data stores. And so — just over a year ago — we decided to build our own.

Our first customer was Plymouth City Council for whom we provided a simple data store to house their growing portfolio of datasets and form the backbone of their growing use of open data to foster innovation in the city. That relationship has allowed us to spend a considerable amount of time getting to grips with the needs of a local authority with a passion for data publishing, and in doing so, understand what they really needed in a data store.

Not long after our first data store for Plymouth, they decided that they liked the product enough to be more than just a customer. And so they became our first investor, providing the resources we needed to scale our offering to more customers and put together an ambitious roadmap for freely available data infrastructure.

Before properly launching we’ve managed to encourage more customers — including Libraries Unlimited — to join us, and earlier this year we set the stage for wider availability by successfully joining the UK government’s Digital Marketplace procurement platform.

So, as of today, we’re opening up our product to everyone and inviting anyone with an interest in more flexible and more affordable data publishing to join us. You can read more about The Data Place — including our pricing — on our website. You can sign up and get your data store running in a couple of days (and it will get quicker). But we’re also looking for people who want to work with us over the longer term, helping us to understand their needs while we build the features that make data publishing work for everyone.

So sign up or get in touch about working with us if you’re interested, or just join the mailing list if you’d like to follow our progress. You can talk to me, Lucy, Simon or our faceless corporate account on Twitter if you have short questions, but read on and we may be able to answer some of those in advance.

A Social Enterprise

We’re based at ThinqTanq in Plymouth, supported by Plymouth City Council, an active part of Plymouth’s digital community and committed to working with local developers. And our product has grown out of a desire to use data as building block for thriving communities. It makes sense for us to build The Data Place as a social enterprise and that’s what we’re doing; it means that we’ll continue to develop ways we can have a wider impact, both through the way we operate and the community benefit of the product we offer.

Open Source

We’re using CKAN as the backbone of our core product, but we’ll be writing our own components and giving these back to the community as we go. We’re also committed to using open source products for every other part of our offering.

Content Management

Along with the core CKAN data store we’ll soon be offering fully functional CMS front-ends for The Data Place. These will be built with Wagtail, using the Django framework so that we can use Python across all our whole product and provide deeper integrations between content management and data publishing.

Finding Data

We’re building The Data Place in such a way as to provide the opportunity for better search. We’re offering customers the ability to join a shared instance of the data store or their own at the domain of their choosing. Whichever you select we’re working to make data searchable across all of our installations to help realise the full potential.

As I mentioned before, we’ve been working closely with our initial customers to find out what functions and features are of most value to them, but we’re also looking for a small group of new customers to form part of a research group. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in then please get in touch. If you just want to sign up then here’s the link again.