Libraries, the universe and everything


Cultural heritage and the semantic web
February 7, 2011, 15:09
Filed under: CPD, Events | Tags: , , , ,

On 13th January I attended a study day at the British Museum “Cultural heritage and the semantic web “. This was a fascinating and challenging day, with some excellent speakers and lots of opportunity for open discussions. I must admit I spent most of the day trying not to do a goldfish impression – there was so much to think about, and although I’ve heard expressions like ‘semantic web’ and ‘linked data’ I must admit I had a pretty vague idea of what it all actually meant.

Perhaps my favourite moment of the day was when one of the afternoon speakers, Atanas Kiryakov, summarised the whole linked data thing as being akin to teenage sex: everyone talks about it, not that many people are actually doing it, and most of those who are were disappointed with the experience and hope it will be better next time!

I jotted down a few notes in each session, mainly points which I found especially interesting or potentially relevant, and obviously I’ve missed lots out (and I seem to have got much more into the note-taking zone as the day progressed, which is a shame as the morning speakers were just as good!). I’m writing them up here mainly in an attempt to make some sense of it all, as linked data and the semantic web is something which could be hugely significant – as I understand it, if it takes off properly it would actually mean that information on the web was created and organised in such a way as to genuinely negate the need for librarians to act as curators of it all. Scary but exciting at the same time, though in reality I think it’s going to be a long time before it poses any serious risks to the profession.

Information about the day and brief notes on the speakers here.

Wendy Hall 

Wendy was the keynote speaker, and was just brilliant! If you ever get the opportunity to hear her speak I’d thoroughly recommend taking it. She got involved with linked data concepts back in the 80s as researchers at Southampton University (my own alma mater) tried to create links between computerised archive records.

I made the following notes in during her talk:

The web is evolving to reflect what people are doing with it – web 2 technorati follow the trends!

The web began as a means to share documents – it’s now a means to share data.

Tim Berners Lee has created a system of 5 stars for assessing the linked quality of your data. (You can see a nice visual representation of this as well as a good description of linked data here.)

Cultural heritage websites are crying out for linked data to enable and promote resource discovery, and lots of metadata has already been created which could be used to do this.

Think big but start small, copy other people if you see them doing things well, and remember that scruffy data is better than nothing – it’s ok to produce something less-than-perfect then come back and tidy it up later!

Ken Hamma

The “but it’s MY collection” mentality which some museums have is challenged by the open nature of linked data.

Scientists need processing, humanists need intelligent storage.

…   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …

And this was as far as I got before life, the universe, and a skiing holiday got in the way!!

Meanwhile, Claire Ross has also blogged about this event over at Digital Nerdosaurus, so I recommend you take a look at that if you’re interested to read about the rest of the day :o)

I’ll keep trying to make time to finish my write-up, which may appear in due course – but lately I’ve been side-tracked by the need for a bit of r&r, a pile of books and some absorbing knitting, and am fed up with feeling guilty about not posting this yet!

If anyone has any brilliant insights about linked data/the semantic web, please leave a comment below, I’m very conscious that I’ve only just scratched the surface and I’d love to learn (and understand) a bit more about it all.

Edited Feb 11th 2001:
I’ve just discovered (via twitter) this brief introduction to linked data by Lukas Koster – I found it really useful so wanted to share it here too.

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