Out of the box

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ONE night last year Jim Rich came home from a basketball game in Texas with an excruciatingly painful leg. His wife Rosemary, a nurse, feared he was suffering something worse than a bad bruise. She entered his symptoms into iTriage, an app, and found references to compartment syndrome, which can cause paralysis and gangrene. That convinced her husband to go to hospital immediately, says Mrs Rich. He had emergency surgery a few hours later.

The app that helped save Mr Rich’s leg is one of many that incorporate government data—in this case, supplied by four health agencies. Six years ago America became the first country to make all data collected by its government “open by default”, except for personal information and that related to national security. Almost 200,000 datasets from 170 outfits have been posted on the data.gov website. Nearly 70 other countries have also made their data available: mostly rich, well-governed ones, but also a few that are not, such as India (see chart). Open Knowledge, a London-based group, reckons that over 1m datasets have been published on open-data portals using its CKAN software, developed in 2010.



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