It’s been a while since I mentioned on the Studio one of my pet subjects, the semantic web. But that does not mean that I haven’t been reading anything and everything I find on it. I found an interesting article published a few days ago at Government Computing News discussing worldwide databases and linked data and peppered with interesting information from Tim Berners-Lee, that crazy guy who invented the Web. Thought I might share it.
Berners Lee is discussing how the Web’s links can be further manipulated to astounding effect by coding data for the Web in a linked format. If this was to happen, the “‘net” effect would be a worldwide database that machines can read. The coding framework for creating linked data is called Resource Description Framework (RDF). The BBC, BestBuy and eBay are among the early adopters of RDF.
The push now is for governments to take up the charge and utilize linked data to move us closer to the global goal. The value add is the difference between making the data available and making the data available for processing and manipulation and, thusly, far more usuable. Coding the data with RDF allows browsers and other applications to automatically pull that data from disparate web sites to make connections between concepts. For example (from the article), if you are looking at a desired address on one web page and then move to another web page to book a flight, the address information from the prior page will be automatically provided to you on the new page, without you have to cut, copy, paste or otherwise manually mark the data.
RDF works because it breaks that data out into elements that can be associated. The data gets three nodes – subject, predicate and object. Each element gets its own uniform web location via uniform resource identifiers. It works much like an extension to an HTML metatag, the stepping stones read by browsers inserted on web pages. The extensions could even be rendered like hashtags, a concept familiar to Twitter users. The hashtag would signal a universal concept that could be read by browsers and used to create the data links.
The concepts behind Linked Data and the semantic web are not easy for web developers and site developers, let alone the average Jo, to grapple with. But the ultimate result will be a web experience that is simple and graceful. Machines will assist in making connections between data that the human operator may never have considered. And to the researcher in me, that is a concept too exciting to pass up!
Forgive my geeky diversion! Let’s hope that some of our venerable web legal research resources consider taking up the charge by grafting some RDF goodness onto their data.
Great stuff. My company automates contracts and builds them using XML that can be semantically tagged to allow companies to search, analyze and report on their contract data much more intuitively than in a database. Theoretically this would also allow companies to exchange data with context and start to automate things like contract negotiations.