Government transparency in all its forms would appear to be very much in vogue at present, spanning everything from the Obama administration's Data.gov portal and Prime Ministerial pronouncements in the UK Parliament to municipal proclamations of openness in Vancouver and compelling grass-roots demonstrations by activists and even newspapers.
At the heart of many of today's initiatives lie programmes to surface Government data for use and re-use by third parties. The 'open' in 'Open Data' is, of course, a very loaded term, and I've looked before at some of the ways in which data might become 'open' whilst remaining effectively useless. Nevertheless, Governments' current enthusiasm for being seen to embrace transparency should certainly be both welcomed and encouraged, and there are real opportunities to work with Government in ensuring that today's transparency fervour continues undiminished, whether by omission or commission.
Given the complex and varied nature of the data involved, and the obvious linkages between the entities (you and I, our communities, our schools, our hospitals) described in numerous different databases, there's a clear opportunity for technologies and approaches from the Semantic Web community to play a significant role in simplifying the whole process of moving these legacy databases online.
Already interested in Open Government from previous roles, and (obviously!) committed to encouraging real-world adoption of semantic technologies, I've spent some time recently talking to a number of those involved. A number of those conversations are now available as podcasts, and I'll continue to seek out fresh examples and perspectives to share.
My most recent podcast conversation, released today, is with Professor Jim Hendler and Dr Li Ding of the Tetherless World Constellation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. The team at Rensselaer have been working with some of the US Federal Government's data sets on Data.gov, and so far they've converted sixteen data sets from their original form, resulting in 2,927,398,352 freely available RDF triples and a number of demonstration applications.
Other conversations already released in the series include;
- David Eaves, talking about Vancouver's commitment to Open Data
- John Sheridan, Head of e-Services at the UK Government's Office of Public Sector Information, talking about his Department's efforts to get Government data online
- Mark Birbeck, talking about work with the UK Government's Central Office of Information to embed lightweight RDFa into workflows and web pages
Each offers an example of ways in which 'open data' contributes to Government transparency, or to increasing the value of the massive sunk investment in collecting, managing and curating the data upon which Governments depend. The Semantic Web's notion of Linked Data (whether actually in RDF or not! :-) ) offers a means to increase the utility of the data we have, without a massive programme of reengineering the systems used to manage it. The examples we see today, and the work of the individuals and teams with whom I have been speaking, will teach us a lot about how to make this work at Government scale.