Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tim Berners Lee - the next revolution on the Web

It's been almost 20 years since Berners-Lee invented the worldwide web, having written the initial memo in 1989. He acknowledged it was rather a vague concept, but exciting. You had to experience it to fully appreciate it. The concept of linking to another web page seems so natural to us now, but its power was hard to understand 20 years ago.

Berners Lee thinks the Internet is ready - and needs - a tranformation as dramatic as that revolution. This transformation would support the sharing and linking of data. This would open up to Internet users the wealth of data available under all those textual and graphical web pages; i.e. we'd get to the real data, not just a representation of the data as text, a sort of dbpedia.

He showed a picture of what this linked data universe could look like. Each buble here represents, not a web page but a data set.

He referred to the wonderful data we've seen from Hans Rosling at TED (and on his web site) and mused how much more valuable that site would be if you could get the original data Rosling had used. Then, just as we can link from page to page in a browser, we could link from data set to data set to move more deeply into the information.

He pointed to Open Street Map as an example of a system that allows you to get at the actual data. This is a shared data wiki, where you can view and edit geographical data about any place in the world.

Berners-Lee has three rules that would make this data available to everyone:
  1. Use http names for all data
  2. If you use those names, you can address the data and get it back in usable form
  3. You can also get the relationships
You can see Bernes-Lee's slides here, although they do lose a little something without his explanations and passionate advocacy. But you can at least see a clearer image of the diagram above.

Having worked at I. P. Sharp in the 70s and 80s, where we had numerous online databases of data, this seems like an idea whose time has come. Add the effortless linking approach of WWW and this is a very powerful meme.

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