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.