Ambitious Technology Plan Emerges From Stanford Linked Data Workshop

stanfordreportlogo Although there has been a half year lag between the the workshop held at Stanford University, at the end of June 2011, and the Stanford Linked Data Workshop Technology Plan [pdf] published on December 31st, the folks behind it obviously have not been twiddling their thumbs.  The 44 pages constitute a significant well thought through proposal.   There is always benefit in shooting high when making a plan – from the introduction:

This is a plan for a multi-national, multi-institutional discovery environment built on Linked Open Data principles. If instantiated at several institutions, will demonstrate to end users the value of the Linked Data approach to recording machine operable facts about the products of teaching, learning, and research.

…The resulting discovery environments will demonstrate the dramatic change that is possible in the academic information resource discovery environment when organizations move beyond closed and rule-bound metadata creation and utilization.

…This model also postulates dramatic changes to the creation, adoption, editing, and maintenance of metadata records for bibliographic holdings as well as scholarly information resources licensed for use in research institutions;

schema-org1 Refreshingly different for an academic report on proposed academic processes, the authors seem to be shying away from some of the traditional institutionally focused or unwieldy and elaborate coordination mechanisms.  Their basic premise is to deliver a Linked Data model that is adopted by schema.org.  Building on the role that schema.org already plays with the models/schema it already supports. Such a model would not only be easily referenced by those in the worlds of libraries and academia, but more generally across the data web and by users of other schema.org schema.  An obvious example that immediately springs to mind would be an academic publisher wishing to intermix globally recognised metadata formatted data about their products with, equally globally recognised sales offer information.

Moving on beyond the introduction, the report starts by setting some goals:

  • Implement an information ecosystem that exploits Linked Data’s ability to record and make discoverable an ongoing, richly detailed history of the intellectual activity embodied in all of a research university’s academic endeavors and its use of library resources and programs.
  • Design and implement data models, processes, workflows, applications, and delivery
    services….
  • Construct an ecosystem based on linked-data principles that draws on the intellectual
    activity and resources found throughout a research university’s programs and its libraries. Use structured, curated representations of these activities and resources to populate a graph of named links.

With a scope of a “… model comprises the pursuits of a research university’s faculty and students. Included in that scope are the knowledge and information resources that a research university creates, acquires, and uses in the course of its scholarship, research, and teaching programs.” – which kind of includes most everything we do – they are not playing at this.

For many in the world of libraries and associated domains, Linked Data may seem to be just the latest brand of technological snake-oil.  A brand that not only promises to add value, but to radically disrupt the way they do things.  I obviously agree with that (except the snake-oil bit) but know from experience it is not an easy sell to the sceptical.  The authors of the report approach this difficulty by referencing several examples and initiatives.

One of the core things they reference is close to my heart, having been closely involved with it with former colleagues at Talis Consulting – The British Library data model, which they used to openly publish the British National Bibliography as Linked Data.  They intend to use this model as a starting point for their work.

Doing so will ensure that the resulting model retains the BL’s high-level focus and its webderived, transparent structure for representing facts about people, organizations, places, events, and topics. Such focus represents a marked contrast to efforts based on all-inclusive models that enforce highly structured, deeply detailed and therefore exceedingly brittle representations of physical and digital objects..

I could go on picking out excellent examples and references from the report, such as LinkSailor, the recent proposal from the Library of Congress to transition to A Bibliographic Framework for the Digital Age, the vote by European libraries to support an open data policy for their bibliographic records, Talis’ Kasabi.com Linked Data powered data marketplace and Linked Data scholarly resource system Talis Aspire, Drupal’s use of RDF & Linked Data techniques, aligning with Schema.org, Google’s Freebase, etc., but I would recommend reading the report yourself as they place these things in context.

Reading it through a couple of times has left me with a couple of strongly held hopes.

Hope 1.  This report gains traction and attracts funding.  Implementation of an exemplar ecosystem for the publishing and linking of intellectual information, such as this, will be a massive boost towards the realisation [both intellectually and operationally] of the benefits of applying Linked Data techniques and technologies in the scholarly and research domains.

Hope 2.  They remain true to the ambition to “retain the BL’s high-level focus and its webderived, transparent structure for representing facts about people, organizations, places, events, and topics”.  It would be so easy to fall back in to the over-engineered minutiae with over emphasis on edge-cases and only focussed on internal domain concerns, approach to data publication that has characterised the bibliographic world for the last few decades.

Linked Data, and the way this report approaches it’s adoption, has the potential to make the world’s information accessible to all that can benefit.  To get us there requires honest evangelism and demonstrations of practical benefits, but mostly being true to your goals for implementing it.  I welcome this report and pass on my hopes for it’s proposals becoming a reality.

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