Berners-Lee sketches out plan for gov't data

Raw government data should be published using open formats to enable mash-ups, according to the inventor of the world wide web
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

World wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has published advice as to how more government data can be made available online.

In a paper on Thursday, Berners-Lee said that the government should "start with low-hanging fruit", by publishing raw data.

"Whatever else, the raw data should be made available as soon as possible," wrote Berners-Lee. "Preferably, it should be put up as Linked Data."

The characteristics of Linked Data, according to Berners-Lee, are that the data is open format; it is modular, so it can be mashed up; and it is scalable, so more modules can be added. The data can then be linked to outside sources, and finally, user interfaces can be devised, according to the paper.

He also recommened that the Linked Data be presented in the resource description format (RDF), he added. RDF brings together a number of metadata web specifications developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international standards organisation set up by Berners-Lee.

In addition, Berners-Lee suggested that data now found in relational databases should be delivered in a form where it can be accessed using open-source tools such as D2RServer and Triplify. Spreadsheets should be converted to RDF using W3C tools.

Mashups of government data could provide useful information, he said. For example, data on health care expenditures for an area could be combined with data about the characteristics of the population, to assess the effectiveness government programs. However, Berners-Lee said that privacy was also important.

"This article does not suggest that all data should be made public, nor does it discuss issues with anonymisation of data," wrote Berners-Lee. "Systems where [personally identifiable information] is an issue will probably not be an early choice when selecting those to put on the web."

Berners-Lee published the report in his capacity of adviser to the Cabinet Office. He was appointed by the government earlier this month to oversee the initial implementation of recommendations from the government's Power of Information report.

Editorial standards