I spend a significant amount of time working with Google folks, especially Dan Brickley, and others on the supporting software, vocabulary contents, and application of Schema.org.  So it is with great pleasure, and a certain amount of relief, I share the announcement of the release of 3.1.

That announcement lists several improvements, enhancements and additions to the vocabulary that appeared in versions 3.0 & 3.1. These include:

  • Health Terms – A significant reorganisation of the extensive collection of medical/health terms, that were introduced back in 2012, into the ‘health-lifesci’ extension, which now contains 99 Types, 179 Properties and 149 Enumeration values.
  • Finance Terms – Following an initiative and work by Financial Industry Business Ontology (FIBO) project (which I have the pleasure to be part of), in support of the W3C Financial Industry Business Ontology Community Group, several terms to improve the capability for describing things such as banks, bank accounts, financial products such as loans, and monetary amounts.
  • Spatial and Temporal and DatasetsCreativeWork now includes spatialCoverage and temporalCoverage which I know my cultural heritage colleagues and clients will find very useful.  Like many enhancements in the Schema.org community, this work came out of a parallel interest, in which  Dataset has received some attention.
  • Hotels and Accommodation – Substantial new vocabulary for describing hotels and accommodation has been added, and documented.
  • Pending Extension – Introduced in version 3.0 a special extension called “pending“, which provides a place for newly proposed schema.org terms to be documented, tested and revised.  The anticipation being that this area will be updated with proposals relatively frequently, in between formal Schema.org releases.
  • How We Work – A HowWeWork document has been added to the site. This comprehensive document details the many aspects of the operation of the community, the site, the vocabulary etc. – a useful way in for casual users through to those who want immerse themselves in the vocabulary its use and development.

For fuller details on what is in 3.1 and other releases, checkout the Releases document.

Hidden Gems

Often working in the depths of the vocabulary, and the site that supports it, I get up close to improvements that on the surface are not obvious which some [of those that immerse themselves] may find interesting that I would like to share:

  • Snappy Performance – The Schema.org site, a Python app hosted on the Google App Engine, is shall we say a very popular site.  Over the last 3-4 releases I have been working on taking full advantage of muti-threaded, multi-instance, memcache, and shared datastore capabilities. Add in page caching imrovements plus an implementation of Etags, and we can see improved site performance which can be best described as snappiness. The only downsides being, to see a new version update you sometimes have to hard reload your browser page, and I have learnt far more about these technologies than I ever thought I would need!
  • Data Downloads – We are often asked for a copy of the latest version of the vocabulary so that people can examine it, develop form it, build tools on it, or whatever takes their fancy.  This has been partially possible in the past, but now we have introduced (on a developers page we hope to expand with other useful stuff in the future – suggestions welcome) a download area for vocabulary definition files.  From here you can download, in your favourite format (Triples, Quads, JSON-LD, Turtle), files containing the core vocabulary, individual extensions, or the whole vocabulary.  (Tip: The page displays the link to the file that will always return the latest version.)
  • Data Model Documentation – Version 3.1 introduced updated contents to the Data Model documentation page, especially in the area of conformance.  I know from working with colleagues and clients, that it is sometimes difficult to get your head around Schema.org’s use of Multi-Typed Entities (MTEs) and the ability to use a Text, or a URL, or Role for any property value.  It is good to now have somewhere to point people when they question such things.
  • Markdown – This is a great addition for those enhancing, developing and proposing updates to the vocabulary.  The rdfs:comment section of term definitions are now passed through a Markdown processor.  This means that any formatting or links to be embedded in term description do not have to be escaped with horrible coding such as & and > etc.  So for example a link can be input as [The Link](http://example.com/mypage) and italic text would be input as *italic*.  The processor also supports WikiLinks style links, which enables the direct linking to a page within the site so [[CreativeWork]] will result in the user being taken directly to the CreativeWork page via a correctly formatted link.   This makes the correct formatting of type descriptions a much nicer experience, as it does my debugging of the definition files. Winking smile

I could go on, but won’t  – If you are new to Schema.org, or very familiar, I suggest you take a look.

Comment   or   Contact us

I find myself in New York for the day on my way back from the excellent Smart Data 2015 Conference in San Jose. It’s a long story about red-eye flights and significant weekend savings which I won’t bore you with, but it did result in some great chill-out time in Central Park to reflect on the week.

In its long auspicious history the SemTech, Semantic Tech & Business, and now Smart Data Conference has always attracted a good cross section of the best and brightest in Semantic Web, Linked Data, Web, and associated worlds. This year was no different for me in my new role as an independent working with OCLC and at Google.

I was there on behalf of OCLC to review significant developments with Schema.org in general –  now with 640 Types (Classes) & 988 properties – used on over 10 Million web sites.  Plus the pioneering efforts OCLC are engaged with, publishing Schema.org data in volume from WorldCat.org and via APIs in their products.  Check out my slides:

By mining the 300+ million records in WorldCat to identify, describe, and publish approx. 200 million Work entity descriptions, and [soon to be shared] 90+ million Person entity descriptions, this pioneering continues.

These are not only significant steps forward for the bibliographic sector, but a great example of a pattern to be followed by most sectors:

  • Identify the entities in your data
  • Describe them well using Schema.org
  • Publish embedded in html
  • Work with, do not try to replace, the domain specific vocabularies – Bibframe in the library world
  • Work with the community to extend an enhance Schema.org to enable better representation of your resources
  • If Schema.org is still not broad enough for you, build an extension to it that solves your problems whilst still maintaining the significant benefits of sharing using Schema.org – in the library world’s case this was BiblioGraph.net

This has not been an overnight operation for OCLC. If you would like to read more about it, I can recommend the recently published Library Linked Data in the Cloud – Godby, Wang, Mixter.

Extending Schema.org
schemaorg1.jpgThrough OCLC and now Google I have been working with and around Schema.org since 2012. The presentation at Smart Data arrived at an opportune time to introduce and share some major developments with the vocabulary and the communities that surround it.

A couple of months back, Version 2.0 of Schema.org introduced the potential for extensions to the vocabulary. With Version 2.1, released the week before the conference, this potential became a reality with the introduction of bib.schema.org and auto.schema.org.

On a personal note the launch of these extensions, bib.schema.org in particular, is the culmination of a bit of a journey that started a couple of years ago with forming of the Schema Bib Extend W3C Community Group (SchemaBibEx) which had great success in proposing additions and changes to the core vocabulary.

A journey that then took in the formation of the BiblioGraph.net extension vocabulary which demonstrated both how to build a domain focused vocabulary on top of Schema.org as well as how the open source software, that powers the Schema.org site, could be forked for such an effort. These two laying the ground work for defining how hosted and external extensions will operate, and for SchemaBibex to be one of the first groups to propose a hosted extension.

Finally this last month working at Google with Dan Brickley on Schema.org, has been a bit of a blur as I brushed up my Python skills to turn the potential in version 2.0 in to the reality of fully integrated and operational extensions in version 2.1. And to get it all done in time to talk about at Smart Data was the icing on the cake.

Of course things are not stoping there. On the not too distant horizon are:

  • The final acceptance of bib.schema.org & auto.schema.org – currently they are in final review.
  • SchemaBibEx can now follow up this initial version of bib.schema.org with items from its backlog.
  • New extension proposals are already in the works such as: health.schema.org, archives.schema.org, fibo.schema.org.
  • More work on the software to improve the navigation and helpfulness of the site for those looking to understand and adopt Schema.org and/or the extensions.
  • The checking of the capability for the software to host external extensions without too much effort.
  • And of course the continuing list of proposals and fixes for the core vocabulary and the site itself.

I believe we are on the cusp of a significant step forward for Schema.org as it becomes ubiquitous across the web; more organisations, encouraged by extensions, prepare to publish their data; and the SEO community recognise  proof of it actually working – but more of that in the next post.

Comment   or   Contact us

Culture_Grid A bit of a profound question – triggered by a guest post on Museums Computer Group by Nick Poole CEO of The Collections Trust about Culture Grid and an overview of recent announcements about it.

Broadly the changes are that:

  • The Culture Grid closed to ‘new accessions’ (ie. new collections of metadata) on the 30th April
  • The existing index and API will continue to operate in order to ensure legacy support
  • Museums, galleries, libraries and archives wishing to contribute material to Europeana can still do so via the ‘dark aggregator’, which the Collections Trust will continue to fund
  • Interested parties are invited to investigate using the Europeana Connection Kit to automate the batch-submission of records into Europeana

The reasons he gave for the ending of this aggregation service are enlightening for all engaged with or thinking about data aggregation in the library, museum, and archives sectors.

Throughout its history, the Culture Grid has been tough going. Looking back over the past 7 years, I think there are 3 primary and connected reasons for this:

  • The value proposition for aggregation doesn’t stack up in terms that appeal to museums, libraries and archives. The investment of time and effort required to participate in platforms like the Culture Grid isn’t matched by an equal return on that investment in terms of profile, audience, visits or political benefit. Why would you spend 4 days tidying up your collections information so that you can give it to someone else to put on their website? Where’s the kudos, increased visitor numbers or financial return?
  • Museum data (and to a lesser extent library and archive data) is non-standard, largely unstructured and dependent on complex relations. In the 7 years of running the Culture Grid, we have yet to find a single museum whose data conforms to its own published standard, with the result that every single data source has required a minimum of 3-5 days and frequently much longer to prepare for aggregation. This has been particularly salutary in that it comes after 17 years of the SPECTRUM standard providing, in theory at least, a rich common data standard for museums;
  • Metadata is incidental. After many years of pump-priming applications which seek to make use of museum metadata it is increasingly clear that metadata is the salt and pepper on the table, not the main meal. It serves a variety of use cases, but none of them is ‘proper’ as a cultural experience in its own right. The most ‘real’ value proposition for metadata is in powering additional services like related search & context-rich browsing.

The first of these two issues represent a fundamental challenge for anyone aiming to promote aggregation. Countering them requires a huge upfront investment in user support and promotion, quality control, training and standards development.

The 3rd is the killer though – countering these investment challenges would be possible if doing so were to lead directly to rich end-user experiences. But they don’t. Instead, you have to spend a huge amount of time, effort and money to deliver something which the vast majority of users essentially regard as background texture.

As an old friend of mine would depressingly say – Makes you feel like packing up your tent and going home!

Interestingly earlier in the post Nick give us an insight into the purpose of Culture Grid:

.… we created the Culture Grid with the aim of opening up digital collections for discovery and use ….

That basic purpose is still very valid for both physical and digital collections of all types.  The what [helping people find, discover, view and use cultural resources] is as valid as it has ever been.  It is the how [aggregating metadata and building shared discovery interfaces and landing pages for it] that has been too difficult to justify continuing in Culture Grid’s case.

The_Web_of_Data_is_Our_Oyster In my recent presentations to library audiences I have been asking a simple question “Why do we catalogue?”  Sometimes immediately, sometimes after some embarrassed shuffling of feet, I inevitably get the answer “So we can find stuff!“.  In libraries, archives, and museums helping people finding the stuff we have is core to what we do – all the other things we do are a little pointless if people can’t find, or even be aware of, what we have.

If you are hoping your resources will be found they have to be referenced where people are looking.  Where are they looking?

It is exceedingly likely they are not looking in your aggregated discovery interface, or your local library, archive or museum interface either.  Take a look at this chart Library Search Graphdetailing the discovery starting point for college students and others.  Starting in a search engine is up in the high eighty percents, with things like library web sites and other targeted sources only just making it over the 1% hurdle to get on the chart.  We have known about this for some time – the chart comes from an OCLC Report ‘College Students’ Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources‘ published in 2005.  I would love to see a similar report from recent times, it would have to include elements such as Siri, Cortana, and other discovery tools built-in to our mobile devices which of course are powered by the search engines.  Makes me wonder how few cultural heritage specific sources would actually make that 1% cut today.

Our potential users are in the search engines in one way or another, however it is the vast majority case that our [cultural heritage] resources are not there for them to discover.

Culture Grid, I would suggest, is probably not the only organisation, with an ‘aggregate for discovery’ reason for their existence, that may be struggling to stay relevant, or even in existence.

logo_wcmasthead_en You may well ask about OCLC, with it’s iconic WorldCat.org discovery interface. It is a bit simplistic say that it’s 320 million plus bibliographic records are in WorldCat only for people to search and discover through the worldcat.org user interface.  Those records also underpin many of the services, such as cooperative cataloguing, record supply, inter library loan, and general library back office tasks, etc. that OCLC members and partners benefit from.  Also for many years WorldCat has been at the heart of syndication partnerships supplying data to prominent organisations, including Google, that help them reference resources within WorldCat.org which in turn, via find in a library capability, lead to clicks onwards to individual libraries. [Declaration: OCLC is the company name on my current salary check]   Nevertheless, even though WorldCat has a broad spectrum of objectives, it is not totally immune from the influences that are troubling the likes of Culture Graph.  In fact they are one of the web trends that have been driving the Linked Data and Schema.org efforts from the WorldCat team, but more of that later.

How do we get our resources visible in the search engines then?  By telling the search engines what we [individual organisations] have. We do that by sharing a relevant view of our metadata about our resources, not necessarily all of it, in a form that the search engines can easily consume. Basically this means sharing data embeded in your web pages, marked up using the Schema.org vocabulary. To see how this works, we need look no further than the rest of the web – commerce, news, entertainment etc.  There are already millions of organisations, measured by domains, that share structured data in their web pages using the Schema.org vocabulary with the search engines.  This data is being used to direct users with more confidence directly to a site, and is contributing to the global web of data.

There used to be a time that people complained in the commercial world of always ending up being directed to shopping [aggregation] sites instead of directly to where they could buy the TV or washing machine they were looking for.  Today you are far more likely to be given some options in the search engine that link you directly to the retailer.  I believe is symptomatic of the disintermediation of the aggregators by individual syndication of metadata from those retailers.

Can these lessons be carried through to the cultural heritage sector – of course they can.  This is where there might be a bit of light at the end of the tunnel for those behind the aggregations such as Culture Grid.  Not for the continuation as an aggregation/discovery site, but as a facilitator for the individual contributors.  This stuff, when you first get into it, is not simple and many organisations do not have the time and resources to understand how to share Schema.org data about their resources with the web.  The technology itself is comparatively simple, in web terms, it is the transition and implementation that many may need help with.

schema-org1 Schema.org is not the perfect solution to describing resources, it is not designed to be. It is there to describe them sufficiently to be found on the web. Nevertheless it is also being evolved by community groups to enhance it capabilities. Through my work with the Schema Bib Extend W3C Community Group, enhancements to Schema.org to enable better description of bibliographic resources, have been successfully proposed and adopted.  This work is continuing towards a bibliographic extension – bib.schema.org.  There is obvious potential for other communities to help evolve and extend Schema to better represent their particular resources – archives for example. I would be happy to talk with others who want insights into how they may do this for their benefit.

Schema.org is not a replacement for our rich common data standards such as MARC for libraries, and SPECTRUM for museums as Nick describes. Those serve purposes beyond sharing information with the wider world, and should be continued to be used for those purposes whilst relevant. However we can not expect the rest of the world to get its head around our internal vocabularies and formats in order to point people at our resources. It needs to be a compromise. We can continue to use what is relevant in our own sectors whilst sharing Schema.org data so that our resources can be discovered and then explored further.

So to return to the question I posed – Is There Still a Case for Cultural Heritage Data Aggregation? – If the aggregation is purely for the purpose of supporting discovery, I think the answer is a simple no.  If it has broader purpose, such as for WorldCat, it is not as clear cut.

IMG_1217 I do believe nevertheless that many of the people behind the aggregations are in the ideal place to help facilitate the eventual goal of making cultural heritage resources easily discoverable.  With some creative thinking, adoption of ‘web’ techniques, technologies and approaches to provide facilitation services, reviewing what their real goals are [which may not include running a search interface]. I believe we are moving into an era where shared authoritative sources of easily consumable data could make our resources more visible than we previously could have hoped.

Are there any black clouds on this hopeful horizon?  Yes there is one. In the shape of traditional cultural heritage technology conservatism.  The tendency to assume that our vocabulary or ontology is the only way to describe our resources, coupled with a reticence to be seen to engage with the commercial discovery world, could still hold back the potential.

As an individual library, archive, or museum scratching your head about how to get your resources visible in Google and not having the in-house ability to react; try talking within the communities around and behind the aggregation services you already know.  They all should be learning and a problem shared is more easily solved.  None of this is rocket science, but trying something new is often better as a group.

Comment   or   Contact us

schema-org1 Schema.org is basically a simple vocabulary for describing stuff, on the web.  Embed it in your html and the search engines will pick it up as they crawl, and add it to their structured data knowledge graphs.  They even give you three formats to chose from — Microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD — when doing the embedding.  I’m assuming, for this post, that the benefits of being part of the Knowledge Graphs that underpin so called Semantic Search, and hopefully triggering some Rich Snippet enhanced results display as a side benefit, are self evident.

The vocabulary itself is comparatively easy to apply once you get your head around it — find the appropriate Type (Person, CreativeWork, Place, Organization, etc.) for the thing you are describing, check out the properties in the documentation and code up the ones you have values for.  Ideally provide a URI (URL in Schema.org) for a property that references another thing, but if you don’t have one a simple string will do.

There are a few strangenesses, that hit you when you first delve into using the vocabulary.  For example, there is no problem in describing something that is of multiple types — a LocalBussiness is both an Organisation and a Place.  This post is about another unusual, but very useful, aspect of the vocabulary — the Role type.

At first look at the documentation, Role looks like a very simple type with a handful of properties.  On closer inspection, however, it doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the vocabulary.  That is because it is capable of fitting almost anywhere.  Anywhere there is a relationship between one type and another, that is.  It is a special case type that allows a relationship, say between a Person and an Organization, to be given extra attributes.  Some might term this as a form of annotation.

So what need is this satisfying you may ask.  It must be a significant need to cause the creation of a special case in the vocabulary.  Let me walk through a case, that is used in a Schema.org Blog post, to explain a need scenario and how Role satisfies that need.

Starting With American Football

Say you are describing members of an American Football Team.  Firstly you would describe the team using the SportsOrganization type, giving it a name, sport, etc. Using RDFa:

Then describe a player using a Person type, providing name, gender, etc.:

Now lets relate them together by adding an athlete relationship to the Person description:

1

Let’s take a look of the data structure we have created using Turtle – not a html markup syntax but an excellent way to visualise the data structures isolated from the html:

So we now have Chucker Roberts described as an athlete on the Touchline Gods team.  The obvious question then is how do we describe the position he plays in the team.  We could have extended the SportsOrganization type with a property for every position, but scaling that across every position for every team sport type would have soon ended up with far more properties than would have been sensible, and beyond the maintenance scope of a generic vocabulary such as Schema.org.

This is where Role comes in handy.  Regardless of the range defined for any property in Schema.org, it is acceptable to provide a Role as a value.  The convention then is to use a property with the same property name, that the Role is a value for, to then remake the connection to the referenced thing (in this case the Person).  In simple terms we have have just inserted a Role type between the original two descriptions.

2

This indirection has not added much you might initially think, but Role has some properties of its own (startDate, endDate, roleName) that can help us qualify the relationship between the SportsOrganization and the athlete (Person).  For the field of organizations there is a subtype of Role (OrganizationRole) which allows the relationship to be qualified slightly more.

3

RDFa:

and in Turtle:

Beyond American Football

So far I have just been stepping through the example provided in the Schema.org blog post on this.  Let’s take a look at an example from another domain – the one I spend my life immersed in – libraries.

There are many relationships between creative works that libraries curate and describe (books, articles, theses, manuscripts, etc.) and people & organisations that are not covered adequately by the properties available (author, illustrator,  contributor, publisher, character, etc.) in CreativeWork and its subtypes.  By using Role, in the same way as in the sports example above,  we have the flexibility to describe what is needed.

Take a book (How to be Orange: an alternative Dutch assimilation course) authored by Gregory Scott Shapiro, that has a preface written by Floor de Goede. As there is no writerOfPreface property we can use, the best we could do is to is to put Floor de Goede in as a contributor.  However by using Role can qualify the contribution role that he played to be that of the writer of preface.

4

In Turtle:

and RDFa:

You will note in this example I have made use of URLs, to external resources – VIAF for defining the Persons and the Library of Congress relator codes – instead of defining them myself as strings.  I have also linked the book to it’s Work definition so that someone exploring the data can discover other editions of the same work.

Do I always use Role?
In the above example I relate a book to two people, the author and the writer of preface.  I could have linked to the author via another role with the roleName being ‘Author’ or <http://id.loc.gov/vocabulary/relators/aut>.  Although possible, it is not a recommended approach.  Wherever possible use the properties defined for a type.  This is what data consumers such as search engines are going to be initially looking for.

One last example

To demonstrate the flexibility of using the Role type here is the markup that shows a small diversion in my early career:

This demonstrates the ability of Role to be used to provide added information about most relationships between entities, in this case the employee relationship. Often Role itself is sufficient, with the ability for the vocabulary to be extended with subtypes of Role to provide further use-case specific properties added.

Whenever possible use URLs for roleName
In the above example, it is exceedingly unlikely that there is a citeable definition on the web, I could link to for the roleName. So it is perfectly acceptable to just use the string “Keyboards Roadie”.  However to help the search engines understand unambiguously what role you are describing, it is always better to use a URL.  If you can’t find one, for example in the Library of Congress Relater Codes, or in Wikidata, consider creating one yourself in Wikipedia or Wikidata for others to share. Another spin-off benefit for using URIs (URLs) is that they are language independent, regardless of the language of the labels in the data  the URI always means the same thing.  Sources like Wikidata often have names and descriptions for things defined in multiple languages, which can be useful in itself.

Final advice
This very flexible mechanism has many potential uses when describing your resources in Schema.org. There is always a danger in over using useful techniques such as this. Be sure that there is not already a way within Schema, or worth proposing to those that look after the vocabulary, before using it.

Good luck in your role in describing your resources and the relationships between them using Schema.org

Comment   or   Contact us

fb Google announced yesterday that it is the end of the line for Freebase, and they have “decided to help transfer the data in Freebase to Wikidata, and in mid-2015 we’ll wind down the Freebase service as a standalone project”.wd

As well as retiring access for data creation and reading, they are also retiring API access – not good news for those who have built services on top of them.  The timetable they shared for the move is as follows:

Before the end of March 2015
– We’ll launch a Wikidata import review tool
– We’ll announce a transition plan for the Freebase Search API & Suggest Widget to a Knowledge Graph-based solution

March 31, 2015
– Freebase as a service will become read-only
– The website will no longer accept edits
– We’ll retire the MQL write API

June 30, 2015
– We’ll retire the Freebase website and APIs[3]
– The last Freebase data dump will remain available, but developers should check out the Wikidata dump

The crystal ball gazers could probably have predicted a move such as this when Google employed, the then lead of Wikidata, Denny Vrandečić a couple of years back. However they could have predicted a load of other outcomes too. 😉

In the long term this should be good news for Wikidata, but in the short term they may have a severe case of indigestion as they attempt to consume data that will, in some estimations, treble the size of Wikidata adding about 40 million Freebase facts into its current 12 million.  It won’t be a simple copy job.

Loading Freebase into Wikidata as-is wouldn’t meet the Wikidata community’s guidelines for citation and sourcing of facts — while a significant portion of the facts in Freebase came from Wikipedia itself, those facts were attributed to Wikipedia and not the actual original non-Wikipedia sources. So we’ll be launching a tool for Wikidata community members to match Freebase assertions to potential citations from either Google Search or our Knowledge Vault, so these individual facts can then be properly loaded to Wikidata.

There are obvious murmurings on the community groups about things such as how strict the differing policies for confirming facts are, and how useful the APIs are. There are bound to be some hiccups on this path – more of an arranged marriage than one of love at first sight between the parties.

I have spent many a presentation telling the world how Google have based their Knowledge Graph on the data from Freebase, which they got when acquiring Metaweb in 2010.

So what does this mean for the Knowledge Graph?  I believe it is a symptom of the Knowledge Graph coming of age as a core feature of the Google infrastructure.  They have used Freebase to seed the Knowledge Graph, but now that seed has grow into a young tree fed by the twin sources of Google search logs, and the rich nutrients delivered by Schema.org structured data embedded in millions of pages on the web. Following the analogy, the seed of Freebase, as a standalone project/brand, just doesn’t fit anymore with the core tree of knowledge that Google is creating and building.  No coincidence that  they’ll “announce a transition plan for the Freebase Search API & Suggest Widget to a Knowledge Graph-based solution”.

As for Wikidata, if the marriage of data is successful, it will establish it as the source for open structured data on the web and for facts within Wikipedia.

As the live source for information that will often be broader than the Wikipedia it sprang from, I suspect Wikidata’s rise will spur the eventual demise of that other source of structured data from Wikipedia – DBpedia.   How in the long term will it be able to compete, as a transformation of occasional dumps of Wikipedia, with a live evolving broader source?   Such a demise would be a slow process however – DBpedia has been the de facto link source for such a long time, its URIs are everywhere!

However you see the eventual outcomes for Frebase, Wikidata, and DBpedia, this is big news for structured data on the web.

Comment   or   Contact us

One of the most challenging challenges in my evangelism of the benefits of using Schema.org for sharing data about resources via the web is that it is difficult to ‘show’ what is going on.

The scenario goes something like this…..

Using the Schema.org vocabulary, you embed data about your resources in the HTML that makes up the page using either microdata or RDFa….”

At about this time you usually display a slide showing html code with embedded RDFa.  It may look pretty but the chances of more than a few of the audience being able to pick out the schema:Book or sameAs or rdf:type elements out of the plethora example_RDFaof angle brackets and quotes swimming before their eyes is fairly remote.

Having asked them to take a leap of faith that the gobbledegook you have just presented them with, is not only simple to produce but also invisible to users viewing their pages –  “but not to Google, which harvest that meaningful structured data from within your pages” – you ask them to take another leap [of faith].

You ask them to take on trust that Google is actually understanding, indexing and using that structured data.  At this point you start searching for suitable screen shots of Google Knowledge Graph to sit behind you whilst you hypothesise about the latest incarnation of their all-powerful search algorithm, and how they imply that they use the Schema.org data to drive so-called Semantic Search.

I enjoy a challenge, but I also like to find a better way sometimes.   w3

WorldCat_Logo_V_Color When OCLC first released Linked Data in WorldCat they very helpfully addressed the first of these issues by adding a visual display of the Linked Data to the bottom of each page.   This made my job far easier!

But it has a couple of downsides.  Firstly it is not the prettiest of displays and is only really of use to those interested in ‘seeing’ Linked Data.  Secondly, I believe it creates an impression to some that, if you want Google to grab structured data about resources, you need to display a chunk of gobbledegook on your pages.

turtle-32x32 Let the Green Turtle show the way!
Whilst looking for a better answer I discovered Green Turtle – a JavaScript library for working with RDFa and most usefully packaged in an extention for the Chrome browser.  Load this into your copy of Chrome and it will sit quietly in the background checking for RDFa (and microdata if you turn on the option) in the pages you are viewing.  When it finds one,  a green turtle iconturtle-32x32appears in the address bar.  GTtriplesClicking on that turtle opens up a new tab to show you a list of the data, in the form of triples, that it identified within the page.

That simple way to easily show someone the data embedded in a page, is a great aid to understanding for those new to the concept.  But that is not all.  This excellent little extension has a couple of extra tricks up its sleeve.

GTgraph It includes a visualisation of the [Linked Data] graph of relationships – the structure of the data.  Clicking on any of the nodes of the display, causes the value of the subject, predicate, or object it represents to be displayed below the image and the relevant row(s) in the list of triples to be highlighted.  As well as all this, there is a ‘Show Turtle’ button, which does just as you would expect opening up a window in which it has translated the triples into Turtle – Turtle being (after a bit of practise) the more human friendly way of viewing or creating RDF.

Green Turtle is a useful little tool which I would recommend to visualise microdata and RDFa, be it using the Schema.org vocabulary or not.  I am already using it on WorldCat in preference to scrolling to the bottom of the page to click the Linked Data tab.

google Custom Searches that know about Schema!
Google have recently enhanced the functionality of their Custom Search Engine (CSE) to enable searching by Schema.org Types.  Try out this example CSE which only returns results from WorldCat.org which have been described in their structured data as being of type schema:Book.

A simple yet powerful demonstration that not only are Google harvesting the Schema.org Linked Data from WorldCat, but they are also understanding it and are visibly using it to drive functionality.

Comment   or   Contact us
As is often the way, you start a post without realising that it is part of a series of posts – as with the first in this series.  That one – Entification, the following one – Hubs of Authority and this, together map out a journey that I believe the library community is undertaking as it evolves from a record based system of cataloguing items towards embracing distributed open linked data principles to connect users with the resources they seek.  Although grounded in much of the theory and practice I promote and engage with, in my role as Technology Evangelist with OCLC and Chairing the Schema Bib Extend W3C Community Group, the views and predictions are mine and should not be extrapolated to predict either future OCLC product/services or recommendations from the W3C Group.

Beacons of Availability

Beacons As I indicated in the first of this series, there are descriptions of a broader collection of entities, than just books, articles and other creative works, locked up in the Marc and other records that populate our current library systems. By mining those records it is possible to identify those entities, such as people, places, organisations, formats and locations, and model & describe them independently of their source records.

As I discussed in the post that followed, the library domain has often led in the creation and sharing of authoritative datasets for the description of many of these entity types. Bringing these two together, using URIs published by the Hubs of Authority, to identify individual relationships within bibliographic metadata published as RDF by individual library collections (for example the British National Bibliography, and WorldCat) is creating Library Linked Data openly available on the Web.

Why do we catalogue? is a question, I often ask, with an obvious answer – so that people can find our stuff.  How does this entification, sharing of authorities, and creation of a web of library linked data help us in that goal.  In simple terms, the more libraries can understand what resources each other hold, describe, and reference, the more able they are to guide people to those resources. Sounds like a great benefit and mission statement for libraries of the world but unfortunately not one that will nudge the needle on making library resources more discoverable for the vast majority of those that can benefit from them.

I have lost count of the number of presentations and reports I have seen telling us that upwards of 80% of visitors to library search interfaces start in Google.  A similar weight of opinion can be found that complains how bad Google, and the other search engines, are at representing library resources.  You will get some balancing opinion, supporting how good Google Book Search and Google Scholar are at directing students and others to our resources.  Yet I am willing to bet that again we have another 80-20 equation or worse about how few, of the users that libraries want to reach, even know those specialist Google services exist.  A bit of a sorry state of affairs when the major source of searching for our target audience, is also acknowledged to be one of the least capable at describing and linking to the resources we want them to find!

Library linked data helps solve both the problem of better description and findability of library resources in the major search engines.  Plus it can help with the problem of identifying where a user can gain access to that resource to loan, download, view via a suitable license, or purchase, etc.

Findability
Before a search engine can lead a user to a suitable resource, it needs to identify that the resource exists, in any form, and hold a description for display in search results that will be sufficiently inform a user as such. Library search interfaces are inherently poor sources of such information, with web crawlers having to infer, from often difficult to differentiate text, what the page might be about.  This is not a problem isolated to library interfaces.  In response, the major search engines have cooperated to introduce a generic vocabulary for embedded structured information in to web pages so that they can be informed in detail what the page references.  This vocabulary is Schema.org – I have previously posted about its success and significance.

With a few enhancements in the way it can describe bibliographic resources (currently being discussed by the Schema Bib Extend W3C Community Group) Schema.org is an ideal way for libraries to publish information about our resources and associated entities in a format the search engines can consume and understand.   By using URIs for authorities in that data to identify, the author in question for instance using his/her VIAF identifier, gives them the ability to identify resources from many libraries associated by the same person.  With this greatly enriched, more structured, linked to authoritative hubs, view of library resources, the likes of Google over time will stand a far better chance of presenting potential library users with useful informative results.  I am pleased to say that OCLC have been at the forefront of demonstrating this approach by publishing Schema.org modelled linked data in the default WorldCat.org interface.

For this approach to be most effective, many of the major libraries, consortia, etc. will need to publish metadata as linked data, in a form that the search engines can consume whilst (following linked data principles) linking to each other when they identify that they are describing the same resource. Many instances of [in data terms] the same thing being published on the web will naturally raise its visibility in results listings.

Visibility
An individual site (even a WorldCat) has difficultly in being identified above the noise of retail and other sites.  We are aware of the Page Rank algorithms used by the search engines to identify and boost the reputation of individual sites and pages by the numbers of links between them.   If not an identical process, it is clear that similar rules will apply for structured data linking.  If twenty sites publish their own linked data about the same thing, the search engines will take note of each of them.  If each of those sites assert that their resource is the same resource as a few of their partner sites (building a web of connection between instances of the same thing), I expect that the engines will take exponentially more notice.

Page ranking does not depend on all pages having to link to all others.  Like many things on the web, hubs of authority and aggregation will naturally emerge with major libraries, local, national, and global consortia doing most of the inter-linking, providing interdependent hubs of reputation for others to connect with.

Availability
Having identified a resource that may satisfy a potential library user’s need, the next even more difficult problem is to direct that user to somewhere that they can gain access to it – loan, download, view via an appropriate licence, or purchase, etc.

WorldCat.org, and other hubs, with linked data enhanced to provide holdings information, may well provide a target to link via which a user may access to, in addition to just getting a description of, a resource.  However, those few sites, no matter how big or well recognised they are, are just a few sites shouting in the wilderness of the ever increasing web.  Any librarian in any individual library can quite rightly ask how to help Google, and the others, to point users at the most appropriate copy in his/her library.

We have all experienced the scenario of searching for a car rental company, to receive a link to one within walking distance as first result – or finding the on-campus branch at the top of a list of results.in response to a search for banks.  We know the search engines are good at location, either geographical or interest, based searching so why can they not do it for library resources.   To achieve this a library needs to become an integral part of a Web of Library Data, publishing structured linked data about the resources they have available for the search engines to find; in that data linking their resources to the reputable hubs of bibliographic that will emerge, so the engines know it is another reference to the same thing; go beyond basic bibliographic description to encompass structured data used by the commercial world to identify availability.

So who is going to do all this then – will every library need to employ a linked data expert?   I certainly hope not.

One would expect the leaders in this field, national libraries, OCLC, consortia etc to continue to lead the way, in the process establishing the core of this library web of data – the hubs.  Building on that framework the rest of the web can be established with the help of the products, and services of service providers and system suppliers.  Those concerned about these things should already be starting to think about how they can be helped not only to publish linked data in a form that the search engines can consume, but also how their resources can become linked via those hubs to the wider web.

By lighting a linked data beacon on top of their web presence, a library will announce to the world the availability of their resources.  One beacon is not enough.  A web of beacons (the web of library data) will alert the search engines to the mass of those resources in all libraries, then they can lead users via that web to the appropriately located individual resource in particular.

This won’t happen over night, but we are certainly in for some interesting times ahead.

Beacons picture from wallpapersfor.me

Comment   or   Contact us

logo_wcmasthead_enTypical!  Since joining OCLC as Technology Evangelist, I have been preparing myself to be one of the first to blog about the release of linked data describing the hundreds of millions of bibliographic items in WorldCat.org. So where am I when the press release hits the net?  35,000 feet above the North Atlantic heading for LAX, that’s where – life just isn’t fair.

By the time I am checked in to my Anahiem hotel, ready for the ALA Conference, this will be old news.  Nevertheless it is significant news, significant in many ways.

OCLC have been at the leading edge of publishing bibliographic resources as linked data for several years.  At dewey.info they have been publishing the top levels of the Dewey classifications as linked data since 2009.  As announced yesterday, this has now been increased to encompass 32,000 terms, such as this one for the transits of Venus.  Also around for a few years is VIAF (the Virtual International Authorities File) where you will find URIs published for authors, such as this well known chap.  These two were more recently joined by FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology), providing usefully applicable identifiers for Library of Congress Subject Headings and combinations thereof.

Despite this leading position in the sphere of linked bibliographic data, OCLC has attracted some criticism over the years for not biting the bullet and applying it to all the records in WorldCat.org as well.  As today’s announcement now demonstrates, they have taken their linked data enthusiasm to the heart of their rich, publicly available, bibliographic resources – publishing linked data descriptions for the hundreds of millions of items in WorldCat.

Let me dissect the announcement a bit….

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book, 2007) [WorldCat.org] First significant bit of news – WorldCat.org is now publishing linked data for hundreds of millions of bibliographic items – that’s a heck of a lot of linked data by anyone’s measure. By far the largest linked bibliographic resource on the web. Also it is linked data describing things, that for decades librarians in tens of thousands of libraries all over the globe have been carefully cataloguing so that the rest of us can find out about them.  Just the sort of authoritative resources that will help stitch the emerging web of data together.

Second significant bit of news – the core vocabulary used to describe these bibliographic assets comes from schema.org.  Schema.org is the initiative backed by Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Yandex, to provide a generic high-level vocabulary/ontology to help mark up structured data in web pages so that those organisations can recognise the things being described and improve the services they can offer around them.  A couple of examples being Rich Snippet results and inclusion in the Google Knowledge Graph.

As I reported a couple of weeks back, from the Semantic Tech & Business Conference, some 7-10% of indexed web pages already contain schema.org, microdata or RDFa, markup.   It may at first seem odd for a library organisation to use a generic web vocabulary to mark up it’s data – but just think who the consumers of this data are, and what vocabularies are they most likely to recognise?  Just for starters, embedding schema.org data in WorldCat.org pages immediately makes them understandable by the search engines, vastly increasing the findability of these items.

LinkedData Third significant bit of news – the linked data is published both in human readable form and in machine readable RDFa on the standard WorldCat.org detail pages.  You don’t need to go to a special version or interface to get at it, it is part of the normal interface. As you can see, from the screenshot of a WordCat.org item above, there is now a Linked Data section near the bottom of the page. Click and open up that section to see the linked data in human readable form.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book, 2007) [WorldCat.org]-1  You will see the structured data that the search engines and other systems will get from parsing the RDFa encoded data, within the html that creates the page in your browser.  Not very pretty to human eyes I know, but just the kind of structured data that systems love.

Fourth significant bit of news – OCLC are proposing to cooperate with the library and wider web communities to extend Schema.org making it even more capable for describing library resources.  With the help of the W3C, Schema.org is working with several industry sectors to extend the vocabulary to be more capable in their domains – news, and e-commerce being a couple of already accepted examples.  OCLC is playing it’s part in doing this for the library sector.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book, 2007) [WorldCat.org]-2 Take a closer look at the markup on WorldCat.org and you will see attributes from a library vocabulary.  Attributes such as library:holdingsCount and library:oclcnum.  This library vocabulary is OCLC’s conversation starter with which we want to kick off discussions with interested parties, from the library and other sectors, about proposing a basic extension to schema.org for library data.  What better way of testing out such a vocabulary –  markup several million records with it, publish them and see what the world makes of them.

Fifth significant bit of news – the WorldCat.org linked data is published under an Open Data Commons (ODC-BY) license, so it will be openly usable by many for many purposes.

Sixth significant bit of news – This release is an experimental release.  This is the start, not the end, of a process.  We know we have not got this right yet.  There are more steps to take around how we publish this data in ways in addition to RDFa markup embedded in page html – not everyone can, or will want to, parse pages to get the data.  There are obvious areas for discussion around the use of schema.org and the proposed library extension to it.  There are areas for discussion about the application of the ODC-BY license and attribution requirements it asks for.  Over the coming months OCLC wants to constructively engage with all that are interested in this process.  It is only with the help of the library and wider web communities that we can get it right.  In that way we can assure that WorldCat linked data can be beneficial for the OCLC membership, libraries in general, and a great resource on the emerging web of data.

For more information about this release, check out the background to linked data at OCLC, join the conversation on the OCLC Developer Network, or email data@oclc.org.

As you can probably tell I am fairly excited about this announcement.  This, and future stuff like it, are behind some of my reasons for joining OCLC.  I can’t wait to see how this evolves and develops over the coming months.  I am also looking forward to engaging in the discussions it triggers.

Comment   or   Contact us

democracy Two, on the surface, totally unconnected posts – yet the the same message.  Well that’s how they seem to me anyway.

Post 1The Problem With Wikidata from Mark Graham writing in the Atlantic.

wikimedia When I reported the announcement of Wikidata by Denny Vrandecic at the Semantic Tech & Business Conference in Berlin in February,  I was impressed with the ambition to bring together all the facts from all the different language versions of Wikipedia in a central Wikidata instance with a single page per entity. These single pages will draw together all references to the entities and engage with a sustainable community to manage this machine-readable resource.   This data would then be used to populate the info-boxes of all versions of Wikipedia in addition to being an open resource of structured data for all.

In his post Mark raises concerns that this approach could result in the loss of the diversity of opinion currently found in the diverse Wikipedias:

It is important that different communities are able to create and reproduce different truths and worldviews. And while certain truths are universal (Tokyo is described as a capital city in every language version that includes an article about Japan), others are more messy and unclear (e.g. should the population of Israel include occupied and contested territories?).

He also highlights issues about the unevenness or bias of contributors to Wikipedia:

We know that Wikipedia is a highly uneven platform. We know that not only is there not a lot of content created from the developing world, but there also isn’t a lot of content created about the developing world. And we also, even within the developed world, a majority of edits are still made by a small core of (largely young, white, male, and well-educated) people. For instance, there are more edits that originate in Hong Kong than all of Africa combined; and there are many times more edits to the English-language article about child birth by men than women.

A simplistic view of what Wikidata is attempting to do could be a majority-rules filter on what is correct data, where low volume opinions are drowned out by that majority.  If Wikidata is successful in it’s aims, it will not only become the single source for info-box data in all versions of Wilkipedia, but it will take over the mantle currently held by Dbpedia as the de faco link-to place for identifiers and associated data on the Web of Data and the wider Web.

I share some of his concerns, but also draw comfort from some of the things Denny said in Berlin –  “WikiData will not define the truth, it will collect the references to the data….  WikiData created articles on a topic will point to the relevant Wikipedia articles in all languages.”  They obviously intend to capture facts described in different languages, the question is will they also preserve the local differences in assertion.  In a world where we still can not totally agree on the height of our tallest mountain, we must be able to take account of and report differences of opinion.

Post 2Danbri has moved on – should we follow? by a former colleague Phil Archer.

schema-org1 The Danbri in question is Dan Brickley, one of the original architects of the Semantic Web, now working for Google in Schema.org.  Dan presented at an excellent Semantic Web Meetup, which I attended at the BBC Academy a couple of weeks back.  This was a great event.  I recommend investing in the time to watch the videos of Dan and all the other speakers.

Phil picked out a section of Dan’s presentation for comment:

In the RDF community, in the Semantic Web community, we’re kind of polite, possibly too polite, and we always try to re-use each other’s stuff. So each schema maybe has 20 or 30 terms, and… schema.org has been criticised as maybe a bit rude, because it does a lot more it’s got 300 classes, 300 properties but that makes things radically simpler for people deploying it. And that’s frankly what we care about right now, getting the stuff out there. But we also care about having attachment points to other things…

Then reflecting on current practice in Linked Data he went on to postulate:

… best practice for the RDF community…  …i.e. look at existing vocabularies, particularly ones that are already widely used and stable, and re-use as much as you can. Dublin Core, FOAF – you know the ones to use.

Except schema.org doesn’t.

schema.org has its own term for name, family name and given name which I chose not to use at least partly out of long term loyalty to Dan. But should that affect me? Or you? Is it time to put emotional attachments aside and move on from some of the old vocabularies and at least consider putting more effort into creating a single big vocabulary that covers most things with specialised vocabularies to handle the long tail?

As the question in the title of his post implies, should we move on and start adopting, where applicable, terms from the large and extending Schema.org vocabulary when modelling and publishing our data.  Or should we stick with the current collection of terms from suitable smaller vocabularies.

One of the common issues when people first get to grips with creating Linked Data is what terms from which vocabularies do I use for my data, and where do I find out.  I have watched the frown skip across several people’s faces when you first tell them that foaf:name is a good attribute to use for a person’s name in a data set that has nothing to do with friends or friends of friends. It is very similar to the one they give you when you suggest that it may also be good for something that isn’t even a person.

As Schema.org grows and, enticed by the obvious SEO benefits in the form of Rich Snippets, becomes rapidly adopted by a community far greater than the Semantic Web and Linked Data communities, why would you not default to using terms in their vocabulary?   Another former colleague, David Wood Tweeted  No in answer to Phil’s question – I think this in retrospect may seem a King Canute style proclamation.  If my predictions are correct, it won’t be too long before we are up to our ears in structured data on the web, most of it marked up using terms to be found at schema.org.

You may think that I am advocating the death, and replacement by Schema.org, of all the vocabularies well known, and obscure, in use today – far from it.   When modelling your [Linked] data, start by using terms that have been used before, then build on terms more specific to your domain and finally you may have to create your own vocabulary/ontology.  What I am saying is that as Schema.org becomes established, it’s growing collection of 300+ terms will become the obvious start point in that process.

OK a couple of interesting posts, but where is the similar message and connection?  I see it as democracy of opinion.  Not the democracy of the modern western political system, where we have a stand up shouting match every few years followed by a fairly stable period where the rules are enforced by one view.  More the traditional, possibly romanticised, view of democracy where the majority leads the way but without disregarding the opinions of the few.  Was it the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire who said: ”I may hate your views, but I am willing to lay down my life for your right to express them” – a bit extreme when discussing data and ontologies, but the spirit is right.

Once the majority of general data on the web becomes marked up as schema.org – it would be short sighted to ignore the gravitational force it will exert in the web of data if you want your data to be linked to and found.  However, it will be incumbent on those behind Schema.org to maintain their ambition to deliver easy linking to more specialised vocabularies via their extension points.  This way the ‘how’ of data publishing should become simpler, more widespread, and extensible.   On the ‘what’ side of the the [structured] data publishing equation, the Wikidata team has an equal responsible to not only publish the majority definition of facts, but also clearly reflect the views of minorities – not a simple balancing act as often those with the more extreme views have the loudest voices.

Main image via democracy.org.au.
Comment   or   Contact us

GoogleBlueBalls Today’s Wall Street Journal gives us an insight in to the makeover underway in the Google search department.

Over the next few months, Google’s search engine will begin spitting out more than a list of blue Web links. It will also present more facts and direct answers to queries at the top of the search-results page.

They are going about this by developing the search engine [that] will better match search queries with a database containing hundreds of millions of “entities”—people, places and things—which the company has quietly amassed in the past two years.

The ‘amassing’ got a kick start in 2010 with the Metaweb acquisition that brought Freebase and it’s 12 Million entities into the Google fold.  This is now continuing with harvesting of html embedded, schema.org encoded, structured data that is starting to spread across the web.

The encouragement for webmasters and SEO folks to go to the trouble of inserting this information in to their html is the prospect of a better result display for their page – Rich Snippets.  A nice trade-off from Google – you embed the information we want/need for a better search and we will give you  better results.

The premise of what Google are are up to is that it will deliver better search.  Yes this should be true, however I would suggest that the major benefit to us mortal Googlers will be better results.  The search engine should appear to have greater intuition as to what we are looking for, but what we also should get is more information about the things that it finds for us.  This is the step-change.  We will be getting, in addition to web page links, information about things – the location, altitude, average temperature or salt content of a lake. Whereas today you would only get links to the lake’s visitors centre or a Wikipedia page.

Another example quoted in the article:

…people who search for a particular novelist like Ernest Hemingway could, under the new system, find a list of the author’s books they could browse through and information pages about other related authors or books, according to people familiar with the company’s plans. Presumably Google could suggest books to buy, too.

Many in the library community may note this with scepticism, and as being a too simplistic approach to something that they have been striving towards for for many years with only limited success.  I would say that they should be helping the search engine supplier(s) do this right and be part of the process.  There is great danger that, for better or worse, whatever Google does will make the library search interface irrelevant.

As an advocate for linked data, it is great to see the benefits of defining entities and describing the relationships between them being taken seriously.   I’m not sure I buy into the term ‘Semantic Search’ as a name for what will result.  I tend more towards ‘Semantic Discovery’ which is more descriptive of where the semantics kick in – in the relationship between a searched for thing and it’s attributes and other entities.  However I’ve been around far too long to get hung up about labels.

Whilst we are on the topic of labels, I am in danger of stepping in to the almost religious debate about the relative merits of microdata and RDFa as the encoding method for embedding the schema.org.  Google recognises both, both are ugly for humans to hand code, and web masters should not have to care.  Once the CMS suppliers get up to speed in supplying the modules to automatically embed this stuff, as per this Drupal module, they won’t have to care.

I welcome this.  Yet it is only a symptom of something much bigger and game-changing as I postulated last month A Data 7th Wave is Approaching.

Comment   or   Contact us