National Archives squares the data circle

The British National Archives, once the dusty haunt of academic historians, solicitors' clerks and UFO conspiracists, are now an international e-publishing phenomenon. Some six million people visited the archives electronically last year, to view records or order documents from a thousand years of British history. With new technology introduced this year making resources more accessible to nonspecialists, that number is likely to soar.
Meanwhile, through a series of innovative licensing deals, the organisation is taking an unusual approach to the task of digitising even obscure archives: it's encouraging private firms to foot the bill for doing so, in return for a certain amount of exclusivity - often time-limited - on the use of data. One result, according to chief executive Natalie Ceeney, is to create a thriving industry for genealogy websites in the UK - and the study of our ancestors is already one of the biggest pursuits on the web.

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