“Raw Data Now!”

January 28, 2010

Meaning‘Data’ is not synonymous with ‘meaning’. Although in all the recent fuss about Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s attempt to overturn the UK Civil Service’s ingrained culture of secrecy, this might easily be overlooked.

The announcement of data.gov.uk is to be welcomed, but it is only the first step on a long and complex road. The fears expressed by the data custodians, that data might be interpreted differently from the way intended, just shows how much we are still governed by vested interests who act ‘in our own good’. Sorry, give us the data, and let us make our own interpretations, good or bad.

So, data.gov.uk is a good thing. But it could turn into the veritable Pandora’s Box without some kind of agreed framework within which data are interpreted and evaluated. I am indebted to the KIDMM community for flagging-up the fact that a European focus group has been working on this very problem for some time.

The all-Europe Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN), is a rather shadowy organisation which seems to work on standards issues in the background, and then suddenly spring into the limelight with a proposal for a new ISO standard. One of their workshops – Discovery of and Access to eGovernment Resources (CEN/ISSS WS/eGov-Share) -  appears to have done precisely this with (I assume) a proposal to the SC34 working group (ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34/WG3). This working group is concerned with producing standard architectures for information management and interchange based on SGML, and their current focus is the Topic Maps standard Topic Maps (ISO/IEC 13250).

Well, you know me. Any mention of Topic Maps and I’m anybody’s. So when I hear of an initiative which has developed a proposal which specifies a protocol for the exchange of information about semantic descriptions which conforms to the Atom Syndication Format and the Topic Maps Data Model, and moreover, which works with semantic descriptions represented in XTM 1.0, XTM 2.0 and RDF/XML, then, well, Nirvana!

Thanks to KIDMM, if you’re interested (and you should be!), then this is where you can find the full specification of the protocol SDShare: Protocol for the Syndication of Semantic Descriptions.

Let us know what you think of it, and of its potential in making sense of the vast amounts of data due to be released on the Web.



Topic Maps Go Open Source

April 27, 2009

XTM Topic Maps (ISO 13250) is a Semantic Web-related technology using XML to describe knowledge structures. A number of start-up companies in Europe and the US in the early 2000s initiated programmes to develop applications supporting the creation and navigation of Topic Maps. Of them, only Ontopia in Norway seems to have survived in any commercial sense, with its Ontopia Knowledge Suite (OKS) incorporating the Omnigator Topic Map navigator and Ontopoly Topic Map editor. Despite a committed cadre of enthusiasts across the globe (including myself), Topic Maps as a knowledge organization technology proved difficult to promote outside of Norway. As a result, Ontopia was acquired by Norwegian IT consultancy Bouvet ASA in March 2007.

Bouvet themselves have now acknowledged that Topic Maps does not appear to be a technology with any conventional commercial potential. They have therefore announced that the Ontopia suite of Topic Maps applications is to be made open-source. In my view, this is the best decision they could have made. Topics Maps is an XML mark-up standard with more readily understandable semantics and far greater flexibility for describing the widest variety of knowledge structures than is RDF, as adopted by the Semantic Web developers.

Visit the Ontopia site for further information.



SKOS Matures

April 8, 2009

ISKO UK’s SKOS colleague Antoine Isaac advises that after a long gestation period, SKOS (Simple Knowledge Organization System) has matured to become a W3C candidate recommendation. This has been achieved only after an enormous amount of work and endless discussion by the SWD-WG (W3C Semantic Web Deployment Working Group) over several years. To accompany the recommendation, a new Working Draft of the SKOS Primer has also been published.

The SWD-WG is now calling for ‘implementations’. Implementations can include:

  • any vocabulary (thesaurus, classification system, subject heading system, taxonomy or other KOS) or mapping between vocabularies that has been published in the Web as machine-readable data using SKOS, and/or has been made available via programmatic services using SKOS
  • any software that has the capability to read and/or write SKOS data, and/or can check whether a given SKOS dataset is consistent with the SKOS data model
  • Once an appropriate number of implementations and comments have been recorded and verified, the Candidate Recommendation will become a Proposed Recommendation and subsequently a full W3C Recommendation. W3C Recommendations are comparable to standards published by other organizations.

    SKOS will then join other key W3C recommendations such as XHTML, CSS2, GRDDL, SPARQL, SVG, XSLT and of course, XML itself, as building blocks of the Semantic Web.

    We congratulate our SKOS colleagues on a truly impressive achievement.




    How the Semantic Web Will Change Information Management: Three Predictions

    October 25, 2008
    Semantic Web Stack

    Semantic Web Stack

    I have doubts about “the wisdom of the crowd” as promoted by various writers on social networking tools. But I have no such reservations when it comes to the enhanced wisdom of smaller groups of connected individuals. Yes, ‘two heads are better than one’ often, and three, four or more can be even better in the right circumstances.

    In my Knowledge Architecture workshop which I run for Aslib, I make sure that delegates hear me talk for five or so minutes about the Semantic Web (SemWeb, or Web 3.0 if you must), and in particular the role which ontologies will play. I do this by showing them a block diagram (above right) of the structure of the SemWeb as devised by the W3C. But now, I realise that it’s just not enough to describe the structure, and that I need to explain how it will fundamentally change how we can access Web-based information.

    ISKO UK member Silver Oliver has recently had an article published in Freepint’s FUMSI network with the title I have used for this post. Despite the millions of words which must have been written to explain what the SemWeb is about, Silver’s explanation is the best account I have yet come across of how SemWeb KO techniques will change our approach to information management.

    Read it – or regret it! I’ll certainly be including a reference to Silver’s article in future runs of my workshop.




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