Trends and Barriers

|This article first appeared in Nodalities Magazine, CC By + SA

For anyone following the Nodalities blog, you may have read some of my recent posts discussing the trends boiling up around Web 3.0 (other buzzwords are available). The Mobile Web and upgraded connectivity in general; the rise of ubiquitous computing from chips in every product imaginable; Linked Data and the “Semantic Web” as an organising platform for this rising tide of data—these are three very broad trends seeing a lot of media attention presently. From where I’m standing, I tend to see the next great turning point of the Web as a convergence of some of these trends, and see it as a rise in the importance of and reliance upon data itself and data tools generally.

The mobile web is bringing new sorts of information to people, and they can make use of this info wherever they happen to be because of advances in devices ad connectivity. As phones and web-enabled devices get better, so to do the chips we seem to have embedded all over the place, and we can now begin to have a more clear picture of what we do through the information we gather from our heaters, cars, and pedometers. Also, as more objects become connected, the grunt-work of number-crunching and storage is becoming commoditised into big, efficient, utility-like cloud services, which host and work with our collected information much more effectively than the gadget in your hand could ever hope to do. Others, like us here at Talis, talk about the Semantic Web, which allows for an evolution from a bunch of connected documents to the explicit connections between bits of information.

Also fermenting in this mix is a strengthening trend of political transparency and a public, shared ownership of social data. Barack Obama’s new administration has clearly made this a priority with the launch and work around data.gov; and in the UK, Sir Tim Berners-Lee himself has been appointed to an Parliamentary advisory role. There is growing pressure to be able to have access to public data, and to see it as belonging to the nation’s people rather than allowed to be legitimately filed away in the great, locked bureau of the capitols.

So, picking up two fairly obvious trends here: Social, Public Data and Linked Data; it would seem to follow that people would begin to have access to previously unavailable information in usable, linked forms. And it’s certainly beginning, as articles elsewhere in this magazine have illustrated. But, what about other chunks of public data? What about when data comes from universities, institutions, scientific foundations and NGO’s? What about charities monitoring crime, CO2 emissions and family histories? Wouldn’t these make a useful piece in the web of social data? What resources have the governments themselves got, if they want to make their public-owned data available in a useful format?

These questions form a major part of the thinking behind Talis’ Connected Commons initiative (talis.com/cc). Basically, Talis has made its Semantic Web platform (including data hosting and access tools) available free of charge for any datasets made available to the public. In doing so, we’re hoping to remove the barrier of cost entirely to publishing interesting data in a Linked Data way. One major reason for this is to promote reuse and mashups of this interesting data, and for people to be able to “follow their noses” to the data that completes their projects. But, from a publishers’ perspective, this is important, because it’s removing a major reason not to bother with making data useful, if not only public. So, with this, data can be made public and useable and the developers and users get the benefit of public SPARQL endpoints and API access to interesting data.

To keep the data open and public, datasets need to make use of either the Public Domain Dedication and License (PDDL) or Creative Commons’ CC0 license. Ian Davis, in his article in this magazine, explains more about waivers and the Connected Commons, and there is a lot more about this particular initiative over on the Talis site (talis.com/platform/cc/faqs/).

In a recent interview with the BBC, Sir Tim said: “This is our data. This is our taxpayers’ money which has created this data, so I would like to be able to see it, please.” I wonder if initiatives such as Connected Commons will begin to remove excuses, hindrances, and obstacles? As public awareness of the importance of access gets hotter, this might become a political issue, as well as a pragmatic one. I hope that in the rush to publish data, and in the ensuing discussion and debate that follows, that the users, hackers and developers don’t get sidelined. I think the world is ready for its data back.

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