New institute headed by Tim Berners-Lee will push web 3.0 technologies
A £30m institute is to be established to put "the UK at the cutting edge of research on the semantic web", Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a speech today.
The semantic web has been described as the next stage in the evolution of how information is created and stored on the web.
With semantic technology, individual pieces of data are given tags, which categorise what type of information that data is and how it relates to other information. An online clothing company could apply such tags to data on a football boot that would say it is red in colour, it is a boot and it is associated with the sport of football, for example. The boot would then be linked to other items that were red, that were boots and that were football-themes - allowing a search engine to better 'understand' what the object is, how it relates to other objects and concepts and as a result allowing it to return more accurate search results.
The centre - which will be run by world wide web creator Tim Berners-Lee and web science expert professor Nigel Shadbolt - will research how the private sector could use tagged data to spot new business opportunities - such as better identifying areas of customer demand - and increase efficiencies within organisations, through semantic technologies such as XBRL.
The institute will also assist in commercialising semantic web technologies, helping British tech companies to develop new semantic web technologies and sell them in markets around the world.
The centre will also advise government on how semantic web technologies can be used in the public sector: semantic tags could provide the public with a greater insight into the nature of government data and how it relates to other information, for example. Tagged data could also make it easier for different public sector departments and bodies to share and compare information.
Brown said: "This next generation web is a simple concept, but I believe it has the potential to be just as revolutionary - just as disruptive to existing business and organisational models - as the web was itself, moving us from a web of managing documents and files to a web of managing data and information - and thus opening up the possibility of bypassing current digital bottlenecks and getting direct answers to direct requests for data and information."
The institute, which will also research the development and commercialisation of other next-generation web technologies, will be jointly based in the universities of Oxford and Southampton.
The development of the semantic web will help government in its goal to make accessing public services via the web as easy as booking a holiday online or banking over the internet, Brown said.
To help achieve this aim, Brown also pledged to release far more of the data that is collected by central government, so that the public can use it to create their own online apps which simplify access to public information.
Every central government department will be expected to make any non-personal data that it holds available online or have to provide a public account of why it is withholding that information.
At present, it is up to government departments to...
...decide whether to release the non-personal data they hold and link to it through the government's data.gov.uk information portal.
In autumn this year an inventory of all non-personal datasets held by central government departments and their attached bodies will be published online, dubbed by Brown a "Domesday Book for the 21st century".
The inventory will include information on each set of data including its size, source, format, content, timeliness, cost and quality.
According to Brown, any business or individual will be free to embed the data in their own websites, and "to use it in creative ways within their own applications".
To complement the release of government data, a new web portal called Mygov will be established, which will link to all government services.
Brown said users will be able to customise Mygov, allowing them to select and design the apps, services and information that are available to them on the site.
"We're determined that government websites should be efficient and meet people's needs - easy to find, easy to use, and fully accessible," he said.
The existing Directgov website, designed to be a single portal to all government information, will meanwhile have its code and content opened up to web developers to allow them to make changes, such as translating it to another language or to rearranging it so it is more relevant to a local community.
Any public contract worth more than £20,000 will also be published online, beating the Tories who have pledged to publish any central government contract worth more than £25,000.
Martha Lane Fox, the government's digital champion, will also help establish a digital public services unit within the Cabinet Office.
Further government efficiencies will be achieved by increasing reliance on shared services, Brown said, adding government will "establish a number of business service companies that will handle the routine back office functions of Whitehall departments".
Brown said that every time a service transaction is delivered online rather than over the telephone, the government saves around £3.30 in administration and staffing costs.
He praised the success of the shared services centre within the Department for Work and Pensions, which provides back office services to 140,000 staff in three central government departments.
Brown said that in future there is no reason why government shared services units could not provide services to the private sector, generating money for the public purse.