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More on linked data

September 16th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have written several posts on the potential of linked data for learning. One of the problems though, is that most of the discussions around linked data are very techy and for educationalists can be difficult to understand. Very welcome, therefore is a new briefing paper entitled ‘The Semantic Web, Linked and Open Data‘, (PDF download) written by Sheila Campbell and Lorna MacNeill and published by Cetis. Lorna says on her blog: “This briefing paper provides a high level overview of key concepts relating to the Semantic Web, semantic technologies, linked and open data; along with references to relevant examples and standards. The briefing is intended to provide a starting point for those within the teaching and learning community who may have come across the concept of semantic technologies and the Semantic Web but who do not regard themselves as experts and wish to learn more.” The paper is very good in making the techy stuff accessible to a non techy audience and has some very useful examples.

The paper explains the background to linked data.

To make the Semantic Web or Web of Data a reality, it is necessary to have a large volume of data available on the Web in a standard, reachable and manageable format. In addition the relationships among data also need to be made available. This collection of interrelated data on the Web can also be referred to as Linked Data. Linked Data lies at the heart of the Semantic Web: large scale integration of, and reasoning on, data on the Web.”

There is currently considerable ambiguity as to the exact nature of Linked Data. The debate primarily centres around whether Linked Data must adhere to the four principles outlined in Tim Berners-Lee’s “Linked Data Design Issues”, and in particular whether use of RDF and SPARQL is mandatory. Some argue that RDF is integral to Linked Data, others suggest that while it may be desirable, use of RDF is optional rather than mandatory.

Some reserve the capitalised term Linked Data for data that is based on RDF and SPARQL, preferring lower case “linked data”, or “linkable data”, for data that uses other technologies. There is currently no definitive practice.

The paper goes on to quote the the recent JISC publication entitled “Linked Data Horizon Scan”  by Paul Miller:

Whilst the exact wording of these statements has changed slightly since first expressed in 2006, and there remains
some doubt as to the strength of the requirement for specific standards, the acronyms mask a simple yet powerful set
of behaviours;

  • Name objects and resources, unambiguously;
  • Make use of the structure of the web;
  • Make it easy to discover information about the named object or resource;
  • If you know about related objects or resources, link to them too.

There is much to gain in embracing the philosophy behind these rules, separately to adopting the standards and specifications required to realise their full potential.

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