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Friday, February 8, 2008

Real Web 2.0: Linking Open Data

Throughout this column I've placed strong emphasis on the aspects of
Web 2.0 that concern open, shared data rather than flashy effects.
Certainly Ajax is important because when used well it can enhance the
usability of Web sites. But Web feeds, open, Web-friendly APIs, and
third-party plug-in and mashup capabilities are the real substance of
Web 2.0. One community closely associated with the Web's original
stewards, the W3C, is committed to a particular, coherent set of
practices along these lines. The Linking Open Data (LOD) community
combines the vision of the W3C for using semantic features to enhance
the Web with the pragmatism that characterizes mainstream Web 2.0. The
[stated] goal of the W3C SWEO Linking Open Data community project is
'to extend the Web with a data commons by publishing various open
datasets as RDF on the Web and by setting RDF links between data items
from different data sources.' The emphasis on RDF is natural for the
W3C, which has been pushing the technology for a decade, but one
development that gives LOD extra legs is the emergence of influential
voices realizing that insistence on strict RDF format across the board
is probably not the best present strategy for winning over Web
developers. LOD supports RDF as a conceptual model, but the new
emphasis is more on linking and openness than on any one syntax. After
all, RDF is merely URIs, links, and labels, so any model that includes
these three can readily work with RDF systems. The full LOD community
is a penumbra around the W3C-led core who support all the advantages of
opening up data that I've discussed so far in this column, and who see
RDF, Atom, JSON, and so on as merely tools for Web developers to open
up their data. LOD means making it easier for people to discover
important things you place on the Web, and making it easier for them
to do unexpected, fruitful things with them. The next time you have a
Web project, start by thinking of it in terms of what information and
non-information resources are represented in the Web app, and do
everything you can to give each one a well-designed HTTP URI and a
semantically rich data format, and create links, links, and more links.

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