So where have I been? I announce that I am now working as a Technology Evangelist for the the library behemoth OCLC, and then promptly disappear. The only excuse I have for deserting my followers is that I have been kind of busy getting my feet under the OCLC table, getting to know my new colleagues, the initiatives and projects they are engaged with, the longer term ambitions of the organisation, and of course the more mundane issues of getting my head around the IT, video conferencing, and expense claim procedures.
It was therefore great to find myself in San Francisco once again for the Semantic Tech & Business Conference (#SemTechBiz) for what promises to be a great program this year. Apart from meeting old and new friends amongst those interested in the potential and benefits of the Semantic Web and Linked Data, I am hoping for a further step forward in the general understanding of how this potential can be realised to address real world challenges and opportunities.
As Paul Miller reported, the opening session contained an audience with 75% first time visitors. Just like the cityscape vista presented to those attending the speakers reception yesterday on the 45th floor of the conference hotel, I hope these new visitors get a stunningly clear view of the landscape around them.
Of course I am doing my bit to help on this front by trying to cut through some of the more technical geek-speak. Tuesday 8:00am will find me in Imperial Room B presenting The Simple Power of the Link – a 30 minute introduction to Linked Data, it’s benefits and potential without the need to get you head around the more esoteric concepts of Linked Data such as triple stores, inference, ontology management etc. I would not only recommend this session for an introduction for those new to the topic, but also for those well versed in the technology as a reminder that we sometimes miss the simple benefits when trying to promote our baby.
For those interested in the importance of these techniques and technologies to the world of Libraries Archives and Museums I would also recommend a panel that I am moderating on Wednesday at 3:30pm in Imperial B – Linked Data for Libraries Archives and Museums. I will be joined by LOD-LAM community driver Jon Voss, Stanford Linked Data Workshop Report co-author Jerry Persons, and Sung Hyuk Kim from the National Library of Korea. As moderator I will, not only let the four of us make small presentations about what is happening in our worlds, I will be insistent that at least half the time will be there for questions from the floor, so bring them along!
I am not only surfacing at Semtech, I am beginning to see, at last, the technologies being discussed surfacing as mainstream. We in the Semantic Web/Linked world are very good at frightening off those new to it. However, driven by pragmatism in search of a business model and initiatives such as Schema.org, it is starting to become mainstream buy default. One very small example being Yahoo’!s Peter Mika telling us, in the Semantic Search workshop, that RDFa is the predominant format for embedding structured data within web pages.
Looking forward to a great week, and soon more time to get back to blogging!
Most Semantic Web and Linked Data enthusiasts will tell you that Linked Data is not rocket science, and it is not. They will tell you that RDF is one of the simplest data forms for describing things, and they are right. They will tell you that adopting Linked Data makes merging disparate datasets much easier to do, and it does. They will say that publishing persistent globally addressable URIs (identifiers) for your things and concepts will make it easier for others to reference and share them, it will. They will tell you that it will enable you to add value to your data by linking to and drawing in data from the Linked Open Data Cloud, and they are right on that too. Linked Data technology, they will say, is easy to get hold of either by downloading open source or from the cloud, yup just go ahead and use it. They will make you aware of an ever increasing number of tools to extract your current data and transform it into RDF, no problem there then.
So would I recommend a self-taught do-it-yourself approach to adopting Linked Data? For an enthusiastic individual, maybe. For a company or organisation wanting to get to know and then identify the potential benefits, no I would not. Does this mean I recommend outsourcing all things Linked Data to a third party – definitely not.
Let me explain this apparent contradiction. I believe that anyone having, or could benefit from consuming, significant amounts of data, can realise benefits by adopting Linked Data techniques and technologies. These benefits could be in the form of efficiencies, data enrichment, new insights, SEO benefits, or even business models. Gaining the full effects of these benefits will only come from not only adopting the technologies but also adopting the different way of thinking, often called open-world thinking, that comes from understanding the Linked Data approach in your context. That change of thinking, and the agility it also brings, will only embed in your organisation if you do-it-yourself. However, I do council care in the way you approach gaining this understanding.
A young child wishing to keep up with her friends by migrating from tricycle to bicycle may have a go herself, but may well give up after the third grazed knee. The helpful, if out of breath, dad jogging along behind providing a stabilising hand, helpful guidance, encouragement, and warnings to stay on the side of the road, will result in a far less painful and rewarding experience.
I am aware of computer/business professionals who are not aware of what Linked Data is, or the benefits it could provide. There are others who have looked at it, do not see how it could be better, but do see potential grazed knees if they go down that path. And there yet others who have had a go, but without a steadying hand to guide them, and end up still not getting it.
You want to understand how Linked Data could benefit your organisation? Get some help to relate the benefits to your issues, challenges and opportunities. Don’t go off to a third party and get them to implement something for you. Bring in a steadying hand, encouragement, and guidance to stay on track. Don’t go off and purchase expensive hardware and software to help you explore the benefits of Linked Data. There are plenty of open source stores, or even better just sign up to a cloud based service such as Kasabi. Get your head around what you have, how you are going to publish and link it, and what the usage might be. Then you can size and specify the technology and/or service you need to support it.
So back to my original question – Is Linked Data DIY a good idea? Yes it is. It is the only way to reap the ‘different way of thinking’ benefits that accompany understanding the application of Linked data in your organisation. However, I would not recommend a do-it-yourself introduction to this. Get yourself a steadying hand.
Is that last statement a thinly veiled pitch for my services – of course it is, but that should not dilute my advice to get some help when you start, even if it is not from me.
Picture of girl learning to ride from zsoltika on Flickr.
Source of cartoon unknown.
Paul is a prolific podcaster, but had yet to venture in to the world of the video conversation. This conversation was therefore a bit of an experiment. Take a look below and see what you think. For those that prefer audio only, Paul has helpfully included an mp3 for you to listen to. At the end of this post you will also find a link to a short survey which has posted to ascertain how successful this format.
Here are a few comments about the process from Paul and a link to the survey:
It’s perhaps unfair to draw too many conclusions from this first attempt, but a few things are immediately apparent. The whole process takes an awful lot longer. The files are larger, so processing and uploading times increase 2-3 fold. Uploading a separate audio file also takes a bit of time. Simply dumping the Skype recording into iMovie worked just fine… but I’ve (so far) not managed to find any way to balance the audio levels. Garagebandlets me do this with my audio-only podcasts, but iMovie doesn’t seem to, so Richard’s side of the conversation comes across as quite a bit louder than mine.