Semantic web meet-up report
The March 2012 Semantic Web meet up event, hosted by the BBC Academy in London, saw speakers at the forefront of the move towards common formats for data on the World Wide Web discuss the latest advances in their field. In this guest blog Silver Oliver, speaker and senior data architect at BBC News and Knowledge, gives his personal take on the event.
At Libraries, Media & the Semantic Web event Jon Voss from Historypin introduced a notion that I really like: the belief in the need for common open access to knowledge, as exemplified in the concept of the library, both was and is a radical idea. He then went on to say that the current ideas behind the concept of linked open data follow the same premise: open access to data is definitely a good thing.
Wikipedia provides as good a definition of Linked Data as any:
"In computing, linked data describes a method of publishing structured data so that it can be interlinked and become more useful. It builds upon standard Web technologies such as HTTP and URIs, but rather than using them to serve web pages for human readers, it extends them to share information in a way that can be read automatically by computers. This enables data from different sources to be connected and queried." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linked_data
Not only has linked open data emerged from a history of radical thinking in libraries, it can also help us rediscover those collections
So why have we not been doing this for years? Evan Sandhaus of the New York Times made the point that the majority of our publishing systems tend to strip out data at the document publishing stage. A consumer (person or machine) of a news article will never see the structured data that has been brought together to produce the page we read in a browser.
Librarians have long strived to make the meaning locked within documents and media assets as widely available as possible. Jon Voss takes this one step further with his vision of the ‘DJ in the library’, mashing up data to tell stories. What he means by this is evident in his project Historypin, which overlays historic images on maps and street views. This is almost impossible without machine-processable data.
One of the bigger recent announcements in the field has been schema.org. The project, presented at the event by Dan Brickley, is an attempt to agree a small set of properties and classes for describing things people talk about on the web. These lightweight schemas, exposed in html code as RDFa or Microdata, provide the search engines with more data to work with (at their discretion) but potentially also anyone who might want to build new things - including DJs in libraries.
Adrian Stevenson (Mimas, University of Manchester) described the array of projects currently going on to make data available on the web in the in the galleries, libraries, archives and museums space You can read more in Adrian’s coverage of the event and on the Open GLAM blog.
I talked about the work we are doing at the BBC to use linked open data to fill in our data gaps, for example around venue locations in the Olympics. Using linked open data provides a useful model for stitching together diverse datasets. Unlike in the past, the burden of data curation can now be shared across the web.
Not only has linked open data emerged from a history of radical thinking in libraries, it can also help us rediscover those collections. Yves Raimond from BBC R&D talked about a research project which is using Linked Data to rediscover the contents of the BBC Worldservice. By taking linked data ID’s like DBpedia and annotating audio programmes, new aggregations and journeys can be created. Yves has written about the project on the BBC internet blog.
Despite the wide range of projects presented, all seemed united by a passion for open access to knowledge. This ideal is not something new, and has had a long history in many fields most notably libraries.
Though the values don't change, culture, technology and law do (as eruditely framed by Jon Voss). Linked data has matured as a technology and its increasingly wide adoption was illustrated through the event’s speakers. For most people, the real challenge lies in changing organisational culture.
Linked open data hopefully provides a language, framework and set of case studies to make the case for engaging with open data on the web.
You can watch the talks in full on the BBC Academy Youtube channel.