We Don't Need a Central Charge Point Database

UPDATE 11/12/2011 00:04:
Since posting this post a lot has happened that has forced me to reassess the situation. The government has launched its own national charge point database and to be honest, in my opinion, it is not loooking good. Many new databases, web sites and apps have spung up offering to provide EV drivers with charge point info and they are all from different sources. How is the EV driver going to sort out this mess when by the side of the road and looking for a place to charge?

I have decided to throw myself behind the open source and community project – Open Charge Map. At least they have no axe to grid and no commercial pressures. They can simply source the data and offer it to others.

I have left this post as it is as I do not agree with deleting or changing posts and it does show the process through which I have gone. Please read the following post with the above in mind.

There you are in your EV (electric vehicle), you have been on a trip and are running low on battery power and you need to know the nearest charging point for a top up. What do you do? Surely your clever in car system has a list? What about using your smartphone and searching online? There must be a way to find that charge point.

Unfortunately, at this early stage in EV take up, there is no central database, no single app or web site you can go to to find out the location of charge points in the UK. I strongly believe that we need a single data source for this data. It is just not viable to have charge point location data in many locations. When you need to find a charge point it is not practical to have to search in many different places.

So what is the answer?

The government in the UK EV strategy is committed to building and maintaining a central database of charge points in the UK and there is an open source project (Open Charge Map) to compile a worldwide database of charge point data. This are admirable objectives but again, just how will either of these compile a complete dataset? In my view it is destined for failure. Not only will compling a complete dataset be impossible but the data is dynamic and changes by the minute and so keeping any central database up to date with timely updates will be a mammoth task and it highly likely that any central database will become just another copy of out of date data. For me, the only sensible way to access this kind of dynamic data is directly to the original data source and not by creating a duplicate in a central location.

Does that mean that these projects are a waste of time? Does that mean that they should not try? Well as far as Open Charge Map is concerned it is a community based (open source) project and funded by individuals so surely that is up to the community. If they want to continue funding and developing then I wish them every success. As for the government project, no, I don’t think they should continue spending public money on a project that has very little chance of delivering.

For me there is only one answer… don’t try to centralise the data at all. Let individual interests build and hold their own databases but with a common and centrally defined and published interface. This would then allow search sites and apps to search all databases that subscribe to this interface. Then, regardless of where the data is held, web sites or applications, can all search every database. This is an important development of the central database concept. Instead of centralising the data, centralise the interface.

This is where government can help. If govenment developed and published a common database interface (possibly by developing a set of data access API programs and publishing a database design schema) it really wouldn’t matter where the data is held or who maintains it. All search sites and apps could then use the common interface and search all the published databases.

I strongly believe that any project that strives to hold a central database will always fail but I can see a scenario with commercial and open source web sites and apps, using a common and published interface, searching any or all databases using that interface. All that would be needed is for each database owner to publish their database through the published interface for it to be available for the world to search it.

So rather than putting our efforts into creating yet another database (regardless of the good intentions) I think we should be developing a web and app based search facilities based on a centrally published and controlled interface. For this to work I think that the interface should be developed and maintained by government.

Centralise the interface… not the data.

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