Thursday, February 10, 2011

Open and Linked Data

I confess, I love buzzwords. I find them fascinating. Their implications their history, and what makes them buzzy in the first place. Two of my current favorites are what's known as "Open Data" and "Linked Data." Two fundamentally different concepts that work together.

Open Data

Open data means governments and other organizations are releasing data sets to the public domain, and making them accessible in various formats. The hope is that if we have enough open data, clever people will find new and useful applications for it. The old saw “Information wants to be free” applies here. Moreover, it is to everyone’s benefit that information be free. The more information we have, the better and more informed decisions we can make.

Linked Data

Linked data is in a literal sense the semantic web. Each data point is assigned a URI, and relationships between URIs are defined using semantic triples. For example, the County of Santa Clara in California may be represented with a URI:

The state of California:

And the country of USA:

A simple relationship “contained in” is then assigned: Santa Clara is containe

d in California. California is contained in USA. Therefore, Santa Clara is contained in USA. With this very simple set of relationships, we can list all the counties in a given state, or all the counties in the country. We can add other relationships, which we shall detail later.

Linked Data is an open platform. Relationships can be defined and queried without restriction.

Open Data and Government 2.0

When it comes to government data sets, the underlying principle is that this data belongs to the people, the citizens of each country. The broad hope is that if all the world’s governments make their public data available we can create semantic relationships and make new discoveries about how government and nations function, and develop better ideas of how they can be improved, removing inefficiencies, lowering costs, and improving effectiveness of public programs. It is possible, indeed likely, that we will find other unrelated uses for open data, for example in the area of making healthy decisions.

The UK is leading in these efforts, its program headed by Sir Tim Berners Lee. More information on the UK Open Data Project can be found here:

In [date], the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced [summary], making a number of data sets public with plans to release more as they become available. In particular, Medicare and Medicaid cost and outcome data is put forward, as well as a number of metrics to measure the health status of communities.

HHS has partnered with Health 2.0 and other organizations to create the Health 2.0 Developer Challenge.

The implications of open and linked data are clear. If you are considering moving to another city, wouldn’t you want to know the quality of the air, water, education system, and health care? If you could compare these factors to other locations would you possibly make a better decision on where to live, work and raise a family? And shouldn’t we all have access to this information? The data is there. It is only left to us to turn that data into information, information into knowledge, knowledge into wisdom, and wisdom into a better way of life.

Open Data: The Role of Government in Fostering Smartphone Applications

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