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Archive for the 'Web 3.0' Category

Library of Congress launch Linked Data Subject Headings

Back in December I was very critical of the Library of Congress for forcing the take down of the Linked Data service at lcsh.info.  LoC employee, and Talking with Talis Interviewee, Ed Summers had created a powerful and useful demonstration of how applying Linked Data principles to a LoC dataset  such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings could deliver an open asset to add value to other systems.  Very rapidly after it’s initial release another Talking with Talis interviewee Martin Malmsten, from the Royal Library of Sweden, almost immediately made use of the links to the LCSH data.   Ed was asked to take the service down, ahead of the LoC releasing their own equivalent in the future.

I still wonder at the LoC approach to this, but that is all water under the bridge now, as they have now launched their service, under the snappy title of “Authorities & Vocabularies” at http://id.loc.gov/authorities/.

The Library of Congress Authorities and Vocabularies service enables both humans and machines to programmatically access authority data at the Library of Congress via URIs.

The first release under this banner is the aforementioned Library of Congress Subject Headings.

As well as delivering access to the information via a Linked Data service, they also provide a search interface, and a ‘visualization’ via which you can see the relationship between terms, both broader and narrower, that are held in the data.

To quote Jonathan Rochkind “id.loc.gov is AWESOME”:

Not only is it the first (so far as I know) online free search and browse of LCSH (with in fact a BETTER interace than the proprietary for-pay online alternative I’m aware of).

But it also gives you access to the data itself via BOTH a bulk download AND some limited machine-readable APIs. (RSS feeds for a simple keyword query; easy lookup of metadata about a known-item LCSH term, when you know the authority number; I don’t think there’s a SPARQL endpoint? Yet?).

On the surface, to those not yet bought in to the potential of Linked Data, and especially Linked Open Data, this may seem like an interesting but not necessarily massive leap forward.   I believe that what underpins the fairly simple functional user interface they provide will gradually become core to bibliographic data becoming a first-class citizen in the web of data.

Overnight this uri ‘http://id.loc.gov/authorities/sh85042531’ has now become the globally available, machine and human readable, reliable source for the description for the subject heading of ‘Elephants’ containing links to its related terms (in a way that both machines and humans can navigate).  This means that system developers and integrators can rely upon that link to represent a concept, not necessarily the way they want to [locally] describe it.  This should facilitate the ability for disparate systems and services to simply share concepts and therefore understanding – one of the basic principles behind the Semantic Web.

This move by the LoC has two aspects to it that should make it a success.  The first one is technical.  Adopting the approach, standards, and conventions promoted by the Linked Data community ensures a ready made developer community to use and spread the word about it.  The second, one is openness.  Anyone and everyone will not have to think ”is it OK to use this stuff” before taking advantage of this valuable asset.  Many in the bibliographic community, who seem to spend far too much time on licensing and logins, should watch and learn from this.

A bit of a bumpy ride to get here but nevertheless a great initiative from the LoC that should be welcomed.  On that I hope they and many others will build upon in many ways.  – Bring on the innovation that this will encourage.

Image from the Library of Congress Flickr photostream.

UKSG09 Uncertain vision in sunny Torquay

uksg Glorious sunshine greeted the opening of the first day of UKSG 2009 in Torquay yesterday.  The stroll along the seafront from the conference hotel (Grand in name and all facilities, except Internet access – £1/minute for dialup indeed!)  was in delightful sharp contrast to the often depressing plane and taxi rides to downtown conference centres.

IMG_0012 The seaside theme was continued with the bright conference bags.  Someone had obviously got hold of a job lot of old deckchair canvas.  700 plus academic librarians and publishers and supplier representatives settled down, in the auditorium of the Riviera Centre, to hear about the future of their world.

The first keynote speakers were very different in topic and delivery, but all three left you with the impression of upcoming change the next few years for which they were not totally sure of the shape.

First up was Knewco Inc’s Jan Velterop pitch was a somewhat meandering treatise on the wonders and benefits of storing metadata in triples – something he kept saying he would explain later.  The Twitter #uksg09 channel was screaming “when is he going to tell us about triples” and “what’s a triple” whilst he was talking.  He eventually got there but I’m not sure how many of the audience understood the massive benefits of storing and liking data in triples, that we at Talis are fully aware of.   Coincidentally, for those who did get his message, I was posting about the launch of the Talis Connected Commons for open free storage of data – in triples, in the Talis Platform.

Next up was Sir Timothy O’Shea from the University of Edinburgh, who talked about the many virtual things they are doing up in Scotland.  You can take your virtual sheep from your virtual farm to the virtual vet, and even on to a virtual post mortem.  His picture of the way information technology is playing its part in changing life at the university, apart from being a great sales pitch for it, left him predicting that this was only the early stages of a massive revolution.  As to where it was going to lead us n a few years he was less clear.

Joseph Janes, of the University of Washington Information School, was one of those great speakers who dispensed with any visual aids or prompts and delivered us a very entertaining 30 minutes comparing the entry in to this new world of technology enhance information access, with his experience as an American wandering around a British seaside town.  His message that we expect the next few years to feel very similar on the surface, as we will recognise most of the components, but will actually be very different when you analyse it.  As an American he recognises cars, buses, adverts, and food, but in Britain they travel on the wrong side of the road, are different shapes, and are products he doesn’t recognise.   As we travel in to an uncertain but exciting future, don’t be fooled recognising a technology, watch how it is being used.

A great start to the day, which included a good break-out session from Huddersfield’s Dave Pattern. He ended his review of OPACs and predictions about the development of OPAC 2.0 and beyond, with a heads-up about my session today, which caused me to spend a couple of hours in the hotel bar, the only place with Wifi, tweaking my slides.  It would be much easier to follow Mr Janes’ example and deliver my message of the cuff without slides – not this time perhaps 😉

Looking forward to another good day – even if the sun seems to have deserted us.

Catching the next wave

Catching the next wave was the title of my opening track keynote presentation in the “Catching the semantic wave – or down in a sea of content?” session of the “Order out of chaos – creating structure in our information universe” track at the Online Information Conference 2008.  Presentation below from Slideshare.

[slideshare id=812920&doc=rjwonlinedec08-1228306147696648-8&w=425]

This is a very well attended track.  Standing room only in most of the sessions, great interest in the Semantic Web, Web 2.0, and associated concepts and technologies.  From a lightly attended single session last year, this topic has grown in to an over subscribed 2nd track this year.  Having spent some time bending the ear of conference chair Adrian Dale last year about what was upcoming, I can wear my virtual I told you so hat with pride this year.  

My job as keynote was to provide a broad introduction to, and context for, things like Linked Open Data, the Semantic Web, Cloud Computing and clouds of data, setting the scene for the day.  Hopefully I was successful in my objective, the number of attendees is definitely a measure of the interest in the topics covered.

Considering that a large proportion of the attendees of the conference are librarians it is gratifying to note that they are already looking beyond the current Web 2.0 meme towards what will be washing over us next.    Thinking about this, it is hardly surprising.  The next wave is far more associated with data, metadata, linking and recommending, than the Web 2.0 meme of social networking, blogging and wikiing.  Dare I say it out loud, but by generalisation librarians appear to be far more comfortable with the concerns of data than socially interacting. 

lod-datasets_2008-03-31I get the feeling that these concepts are going to get adopted in libraries far quicker than we would expect once they start to gain momentum.  This would be helped if we could get past some of the terminology confusion.  The main culprit in this confusion being between semantics/semantic analysis and the semantic web.  The web of data, as against [or to be more correct in addition to] the current web of documents, is how I see the semantic web.  A great example of the web of data in action is the Open Linking Data Project.

Semantic Future for Libraries – Martin Malmsten Talks with Talis

Martin Malmsten Martin Malmsten is from the LIBRIS department of the Royal Library of Sweden – LIBRIS being the discovery interface for the library.

Since joining as a software developer has been absorbed in to the world of library search and discovery.  He played a major part in the build and launch of the latest LIBRIS search interface which has introduced under the surface some Semantic Web and Linked Data features.

We discuss his career, the use of User Centered Design & Iterative Development methodologies, the Semantic Web techniques and technologies he used, and their future applicability to the library domain.

Items discussed in our conversation:

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Connections, Connections, Connections

It’s a little disconcerting when your own words from months ago are quoted back at you from a distance.  That’s the trouble with the blogosphere, it is so easy for connections to what you have said to be linked in to the conversation in ways you never expected.  Trouble? – No it is one of its major benefits – disconcerting or not!

Recently Mark Dahl quoted something I said a while back.  I was discussing how we must stop developing destination applications and start delivering the information and functionality that users want, to where they are working – for instance inside the Learning Management System/eLearning System/VLE (or whatever you call them down your way) – apparently I boasted that the new Reading List (Course Reserves) application Talis are working on "doesn’t even have a user interface".  The reason I gave, at the time, was that students don’t need yet another destination to go to to find the information they need – so why build one. 

Providing the functionality to link resources to courses in a way that adds value well beyond the simple attempts to be found in ILS/LMS systems, and their course management system counterparts, is an obvious development.  What is less obvious, at first, is that you don’t need to build a user interface for it – the student is already in a library system, or a learning management system, or a portal, or FaceBook, or whatever – why can we not deliver the functionality directly in to that environment?  Well today the answer to that question is that those applications are not very good at embedding Web Services directly in to their interfaces.

This is why Talis development team member Julian Higman (featured in the February issue of the Library Platform News) was very quick to comment on Mark’s post "I’m working on the reading list application at Talis that you mention, and it certainly does have a user interface!"  – Having calmed Julian down (I jest), we both agreed that the fact it was necessary to build a user interface for this product is symptomatic of the inability of most applications, in the University domain, to consume web services and usefully integrate their functionality in to a user’s work flow.

As I commented previously, the online university today is a collection of many silos that the user [student, professor, researcher] is expected to know how to navigate, let alone be able to identify the connections between data in those silos.  I expect that this comes as a bit of a shock to the average new student. -  I thought I had come to this university to learn about my chosen subject, not to spend a significant amount of time and effort becoming an expert in the use of a multiplicity of different applications and services that are supposedly here to help me.

Peter Brantley was on the money for Mark in his post, about building a Flickr-like system for academia, when he said "However, what will make the application ultimately successful is the availability of open services that permit re-use: mashups that encourage integration with other services and content."

I heartily agree, but only as an interim step.  Most of today’s systems are not integrated in any way, so mashing their outputs, exposed via APIs, together in a Web 2.0 way will be a major step forward.  Doing this still misses the underlying links that are usually only apparent as connections in the eye of the user, if they happen to appear on the screen together.  When we can follow those links between data across silos we will remove the false barriers, imposed by technology thus far, and expose our users to the world of linked data.  

Below is a diagram I am working on to hopefully help people visualise what I mean.  Utilising Web 2.0 technologies we bring together [mashup] the output from various application silos in to one interface.  A great improvement over Web 1.0 where each application would present its data on it’s own independent, and different, screen.  Utilising Web 3.0 [Semantic Web] technologies, links between data in separate silos can be identified and presented as connections and relationships in a single Web of Data – much closer to a representation of the real world.

2.0vs3.0

I would be interested in feedback on this diagram.  Does it help, or does it make things more confusing?

Megaphone picture published by Paul Keleher in Flickr.

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