A WhatDoTheyKnow milestone: 50,000 subscribers

Information Overload by Peter Asquith

This month, our Freedom of Information site WhatDoTheyKnow passed a significant milestone: 50,000 registered users.

That doesn’t mean that 50,000 people have used the site to send a request for information – many have signed up simply to receive email alerts*, or to add annotations to existing requests. They’re all part of the WhatDoTheyKnow community, as are the 500,000 monthly visitors who browse the site.

And incidentally, we should give thanks to the bedrock of that community – the WhatDoTheyKnow volunteers, who work on the site’s admin, as well as giving advice and support to users. Alex, John, Richard, Ganesh, Alistair and Helen have given up many, many hours of their own time to make sure that WhatDoTheyKnow runs smoothly.

By coincidence, I’ve recently been reading through our archived blog posts, so WhatDoTheyKnow’s history is fresh in my mind.

The project came about as a result of a mySociety call for proposals – we asked you what we should build next, and the idea of an ‘FOI archive’ came out tops.

By December 2006, we had received funding to make it possible, and we were asking for example requests to help us see how the tool needed to work.

In February 2008,  WhatDoTheyKnow launched. It’s worth mentioning that the concept of FOI requests being made in public was a very new one, and not one that was met by universal delight from public authorities.

Just six months later, the ability to add annotations was added. Since then, we’ve created Alaveteli, our software that lets anyone in the world run their own Right To Know site, anywhere in the world.

Hmm, now what would the number be if we counted the registered users of all the Alaveteli sites around the world…? In any case, we’re really glad to see WhatDoTheyKnow continuing to be used by so many. Thank you for being part of it.


*There are a several ways you can track information on WhatDoTheyKnow:

  • Receive an alert whenever someone requests information from a specific body. Locate the public authority on this page, then click the green button marked ‘Follow’. Subscribe to your local council, for example, and you’ll really be up to date with the major issues in your own community.
  • Receive an alert whenever a specific word or phrase is mentioned in an FOI request. Search for any phrase, and you’ll also see that green button, inviting you to ‘track this search’. This is useful for campaigners who want to know when certain topics come up, or anyone with a specific interest.
  • Follow a request. If you see a request that is of interest to you, again, just find the green ‘follow’ button. Once you’ve subscribed, we’ll email you every time there’s some activity on the request, whether it’s a response from the public authority or a comment from another user.


  1. Thank you all the team @whatdotheyknow. Currently at the city of York there are a number of transparency and democracy challenges- previously to discovering whatdotheyknow citizens were not able to have oversight or even knowledge of #fois submitted about the Council or even find the answers in a searchable way. Now we can and the Council also knows that what they produce is genuinely in the public domain and that requests are being tracked.

    By looking at other requests we can see how others are treated and their interests. A win win for transparency and democracy.

    Thank you

    my contribution to support your great work forthcoming –