The Web of Data

Participants in this project might be interested to listen back to today’s instalment of The Life Scientific on BBC Radio 4. It featured Professor Dame Wendy Hall, one of the pioneers of the World Wide Web and hypermedia, talking about a career spent at the forefront of web and digital media developments.

In particular Dame Wendy explains the significance of the growing “Web of Data” which increasingly exists in parallel with the more familiar “Web of Documents”. By using techniques such as linked open data, we can enable web searches and applications that make intelligent and useful links between sets of data. Mobile phone applications, for example, use the web to relate  a person’s exact location (from GPS) to any number of datasets, including street maps, public transport timetables and historical events.

No matter how small or specialised a dataset may be – even a ‘simple’ bibliography – taking care to represent it as data using increasingly accessible tools and techniques – ensures that it can contribute to the “Web of Data” and participate in who-knows-what  future connections and queries.  (It’s also worth mentioning that the data generated from social networking activities is already a rich part of the Web of Data.)

A Web of Documents

This illustration (from a 1995 Computing Science Course) reminds us how we originally understood, and often still understand, the Web.

A Web of Documents on a Web Server (from http://ccsweb.njit.edu/~cis456/)

A Web of Documents (from http://ccsweb.njit.edu/~cis456/)

A Web of Data

Documents are familiar to us and usually their meaning can be easily inferred by humans (otherwise they are little use!)  But documents have limited value as data, unless the data in them and associated with them is expressed in ways search engines and other applications can reliably interpret and make links from and present to us in accessible ways. This in turn means using well-defined methods for representing data, and, wherever possible, identifying and utilising existing data schemas in the subject field.

A Web of Data (from http://www.geovation.org.uk)

An illustration of interactions in the Web of Data (from http://www.geovation.org.uk)

Visualising a University as Linked Open Data

Southampton’s Department of Electronic and Computer Science, which Dame Wendy is closely associated with, has implemented an impressive and innovative data service about the University itself, by modelling many of the university’s functions. Southampton’s Open Data Service at http://data.southampton.ac.uk/ can potentially be queried and used in many ways to provide reliable, dynamic data about activities and entities across the University.

The data representation of Wendy Hall in this system is cited as an example in an important World Wide Web Consortium document about the Semantic Web and Linked Data:  Cool URIs for the Semantic Web. Any person, object or event, in any context might be expressed as data in a similar way. Data created or gathered for research projects may not always be on the scale of the Open Data Service, but care with design and curation will ensure it can be effectively reused, searched and linked, and continues to have value beyond its original purpose.

In this blog post we’ve also used a simple WordPress plugin tool for embedding linked data to use the same Open Data Service identifiers to assert that this article is about the same Professor Dame Wendy Hall (not just any Wendy Hall):

Summary
Name
Wendy Hall
Website
Job Title
Professor Dame
Company
University of Southampton

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