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UK Government pioneers the semantic web

London: 3 July 2010

Shane O’Neill has published an article that reviews the current UK initiatives following the change of Government. The article titled: Government pioneers the semantic web indicates that the new UK Government has carried on the public sector information policies of the previous UK Government where the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown initiated a number of world class leading initiatives.

An extract from the article:

“What we should also recognise too is the innovations agenda. stalled during the electoral campaign. Civil servants pedantically considered release of data on the web during the pre-election period as an "act of publishing" (is that seditious? legacy survives!). But since then it has continued to grow – 3611 datasets as of today.

And not just small datasets but thumping great gigabytes of data e.g. the Combined Online Information System (COINS database of UK Government expenditure provided by government departments) as an example, as well as the more publicity attracting list of civil service salaries above 150k.

And whilst the exploitation of geo-spatial data through Ordnance Survey data continues to attract a lot of attention, one must also draw attention to the access given not just to data but to metadata. This truly is the beginnings of the realisation of Berners Lee vision of “linked data” leading to the semantic web - releasing intelligent data which can be manipulated and "linked" to other data.

OS have not just launched OS OpenData but OS OpenSpace where developers can interface with the API (application programming interface) and intelligently programme the data.

Nor is this the only example – the Police API allows you to retrieve information about neighbourhood areas in all 43 police areas of England and Wales. First tremors in the pulse of innovation!

Of course, there are obvious teething issues – most effectively articulated by Jeff Gilfelt, the developer of the ASBOrometer , a mobile application that measures levels of anti-social behaviour at your current location (within England and Wales) and gives you access to key local ASB statistics.

Jeff readily acknowledges the weaknesses of : “Different datasets are available in many different formats, some easier to work with than others. Some datasets contain very recent data and are refreshed frequently, others are quite stale. Some contain a very granular level of detail, others just provide high level aggregations.”

But he goes on to add:

The Semantic Web initiatives, as well as cultural changes within government with respect to data will hopefully address this, but it is not something that can happen overnight. And here lies the opportunity. I believe is an untapped goldmine. There is huge potential value in these datasets, but many developers are being put off because they aren't necessarily immediately programatically accessible. Fortunately there are great tools and technology enablers available, many of which are free, that help to solve this. Now is the time to be building unique and interesting applications with this data. My advice is to get in early before the gold-rush begins. The current opportunity for developers in open data represents only the tip of the iceberg.

We couldn’t express the opportunity for the private publishing sector any better. And we should acknowledge at an point of utter angst for the public sector that it is showing leadership and innovation in the information arena.”

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Shane O’Neill Associates, UK