W3C pushes linking Web data

Sir Tim Berners-Lee talks about extending Web to include machine readable data

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sees the Web becoming a platform where data can be posted and reused in multiple ad-hoc applications, to judge from a workshop the organization held at the WWW2010 conference, this week in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The idea of using open data shows the "power of using data from two different sources," said Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee in a presentation during the workshop, a talk similar to one he gave at the Ted conference two months ago.

While Berners-Lee has been espousing the idea of Linked Open Data for several years, the concept has slowly been gaining momentum. For instance, last week, Facebook introduced the Open Graph protocol to reuse common Facebook elements, such as the Like button, on other Web sites.

For this talk, he pointed to several examples using open linked data. For instance, in 2009, the U.K. government had posted a machine-readable list of bicycle accidents in and around the London area. Within a few days, the online division of The Times newspaper folded that data into a map.

He also pointed to how, in 2008, a lawyer had merged two data sources -- housing data along with the routes of water lines -- to show, for a class-action lawsuit, how black residents around Zanesville, Ohio, did not have the same access to municipal water lines as whites did.

A big early proponent of publishing raw data has been governments, Berners-Lee pointed out. Over the past year, both the U.S. and the U.K. set up open data repositories, Data.gov and Data.Gov.U.K., respectively. "There's a great competition between the two countries" over the number of online repositories they are making available, Berners-Lee said.

We are entering an era of "personal instrumentation," said Thomas Roessler, who is the W3C Technology and Society Domain leader. "We are building sensors into our lives that connect to the network and put data online."

Roessler pointed to a number of services that gather and post personal data online. He pointed to Blippy, the service that posts details on Twitter or other social networking services on its users have purchased on credit cards.

He warned that the services have to be responsible about how they handle the data, which is structured and highly searchable.

"Linked data is an incredibly powerful tool," Roessler said. "As we design these tools, we will be working with highly sensitive and personal information. And that means a responsibility that we must live up to."

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Joab Jackson

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