This is a guest post by Chris Taggart, a member of OKFN’s open government working group and creator of OpenlyLocal, who today launched a new website OpenCorporates in collaboration with Rob McKinnon (a project they first demoed at the Open Government Data Camp in November).

Why OpenCorporates? Like most open data/open source projects, it was started (just a couple of months ago), because the founders, Chris Taggart & Rob McKinnon, needed such a resource to exist. Specifically we needed:

  1. an open data base of companies not just in the UK, or in another individual country, but in any country
  2. a way of matching lists of company names to real-world companies (with their company numbers)
  3. a place where the increasingly large amount of open government data relating to companies could be brought together, with all the power that would bring to the community

So, OpenCorporates was created, and while it’s very, very early days, we think we’ve got something that is massively more usable than anything else out there (and did we mention it’s open data too?).

So, without any more delay, let’s take a quick run through the main features. The first place is, reasonably, the home page, where you can search for a company name from the over 3,800,000 companies in the OpenCorporates database

You can also start browsing the database by filtering by jurisdiction (this similar but not the same as country – more on this in a later post), and from there to filtering by company type or status.

The next bit is where it starts to get really interesting, and that’s where we can start to filter based on public data we’ve imported. Let’s say we want to see all the company with Financial Transactions – there’s possibly a better way of expressing this, but these are all the UK central government spending items recently release as part of its drive to open up government. Click on the Financial Transactions filter and you get:

There’s 4955 companies who received a payment from central government. Let’s now see those who received notices from the UK Health & Safety Executive by clicking on the filter to the right:

Then let’s choose an industry classification, say, Fishing, Fish Farming etc. OK that’s just one company. DUCHY OF CORNWALL OYSTER FARM LIMITED, and clicking on that gives us the following screen:

OK. Interesting, but click through onto the transaction, and you get this:

I’ll leave it to the reader to dig out more about that transaction (clue:, but I think you’ll agree it’s a pretty useful starting point.

The second core feature is the ability to matcth company names to real-world companies, complete with company numbers. To do this, we’ve implemented the back end stuff that the awesome Google Refine needs, and here a short screencast will do the job of a thousand words: screencast on vimeo.

It’s worth mentioning one last feature, which is some ways is the most powerful but not at all sexy, and that’s the ability to have a URL for every company in the world (we’ll be adding the ability for the community to add companies soon). Why is this important? Because when we’re talking about companies, it’s difficult to be sure which company we’re talking about. We need universal identifiers for them, and the best are URLs. This means that different people can refer to the same OpenCorporates url (here’s the one for Google Bermuda Limited) and be sure that they’re talking about the same company.

Finally, we’ve got lots of features we’re working on, including a full-blown API, so it’s easy to get the data out and reuse it elsewhere. Watch this space, follow @OpenCorporates on twitter and start exploring.

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Rufus Pollock is Founder and President of Open Knowledge.

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