Tim Berners-Lee gives first insight into government data plan

24 Jun 2009 View Comments
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Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Berners-Lee: Linked Data is the key

Sir Tim Berners-Lee has given an insight into the likely plans for making government data accessible online, in a document posted on the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) web site.

Semantic Web tools pioneered by the inventor of the web will figure prominently in the project.

Further reading

Berners-Lee was appointed by the government earlier this month to help make government information more accessible and so help the state become more transparent.

In a paper entitled Putting government data online, Berners-Lee says he favours the use of Linked Data as a means of publishing information.

Linked Data is part of the Semantic Web – another Berners-Lee initiative to make information on the internet more easily identifiable by giving it better context, often through the use of metadata. Linked Data is a method of exposing, sharing and connecting data on the web, and connecting related information that is not currently linked.

“Government data is being put online to increase accountability, contribute valuable information about the world, and to enable government, the country, and the world to function more efficiently,” writes Berners-Lee in his W3C report.

“All these purposes are served by putting the information on the web as Linked Data. Start with the ‘low-hanging fruit’. Whatever else, the raw data should be made available as soon as possible. Preferably, it should be put up as Linked Data.”

Berners-Lee says the benefits of this approach are that Linked Data is open – it is open source and freely available to the web community; it is modular – allowing mash-ups to be easily built around government data; and it is scalable – the definition and scope of the technology can be easily developed.

He also recommends that a top-down, mandated approach to opening up government data will not work – the work has to start from the bottom, but backed by those at the top.

“There are two philosophies to putting data on the web. The top-down one is to make a corporate or national plan, by getting committees together of all the interested parties, and make a consistent set of terms into which everything fits. This in fact takes so long it is often never finished, and anyway does not get corporate or national consensus in the end,” writes Berners-Lee.

“The other method experience recommends is to do it bottom-up. A top-level mandate is extremely valuable, but grass-roots action is essential. Put the data up where it is: join it together later.”

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