“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.


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