Welcome to the Data Activity — the new home of the Semantic Web and eGovernment at W3C.
The Web is transforming the way governments interact with their citizens in two distinct ways: through the provision of online services, or access to physical services through online means, and through the release of open data. This latter aspect is at the heart of a huge and growing community right around the world, one that encompasses not just government data but cultural heritage data and scientific research, both for its data and open access to its publications. Open data isn't an ephemeral fashion, it's shift in the way things are done, made possible by the World Wide Web.
The Semantic Web, in particular Linked Data, is an important part of this shift. Its unparalleled ability to publish self-describing data at Web scale, data that carries meaning and intelligence within itself, has clear and distinct advantages. Reference data such as that published by the (UK mapping agency) Ordnance Survey, and the European Environment Agency is complemented by initiatives such as OpenCorporates and Product Open Data. Industries such as health care and life sciences and the financial industry are making extensive use of Linked Data, a lot of which is open.
Over more than a decade, the technologies that underpin the Semantic Web have become mature, in many cases going through a round of recent updates that are finished or close to finishing. There are many tools available already with greater capacity and sophistication being added all the time.
But not all data is open, and not all data is linked. Indeed, the data that can now be found on portals around the world is generally either in geospatial formats or the simplest data format of all: CSV. Comma Separated Variable files (or its near equivalent Tab Separated Variable) dominate. They're easy to produce in a variety of software from desktop spreadsheets to relational databases and they're easily converted into JSON – the data format of choice for most Web application developers.
The Data Activity recognizes and builds on these different strands:
- the Semantic Web is a mature technology at the heart of a large and growing user base;
- governments, industry, researchers and the cultural heritage sector, are all making increasing use of the power and flexibility of the Web to deliver services and data;
- there is a lot of highly valuable data available in a variety of formats, including most notably, CSV.
These will form the focal point of the work at W3C in the short to medium term. We want to make data more interoperable and to make the power and flexibility of the Semantic Web technologies more readily accessible to other formats.
Kicking us off in the new Activity are two new working groups: CSV on the Web, which focuses on creating metadata for tabular data; and Data on the Web Best Practices, which has the 'simple' task of fostering a self-sustaining ecosystem for data publishers and consumers. Alongside this, we'll also be putting more effort into promoting the use of our infrastructure to create and maintain vocabularies in w3.org/ns space in cooperation with the Web Schemas Task Force which is part of the Semantic Web Interest Group – that's a whole blog post waiting right there. Meanwhile the RDF, Linked Data Platform and Government Linked Data Working Groups are all very close to completing their work and the Health Care and Life Science Interest Group continues to extend the use of the technologies in this exciting field.
My new role as Activity Lead is to support this work of course but also to look for new areas where Web technologies can be applied to data-centric applications and where W3C standardization can help. If you see a gap in our technologies, an opportunity for doing more exciting and impactful work, do please let me know.