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Open Email to Phil Archer, Data Activity Lead

I took your advice and followed the links you gave me. This led on to try and get a wider understanding of your work on the semantic web, in particular on Sir Tim Berners Lee’s visions expressed in his videos. First about “Raw data now!” that Sir Tim got his TED audience to chant in 2009. To me raw data means unadulterated plain text captured directly at source.

I find it easy to keep raw data from the markup needed to display it as unique links (a set up where both parties need only reassign their skills rather than learn new). Practitioners can readily list names of objects and their properties using words understood by their associates in a particular context (part of building, for example), meanings being inherent in storage location names (e.g. “Products” means specify; “Regulations” means comply). But I acknowledge the involvement of ordinary people must be difficult for scientists and technologists so used to working in areas where others fear to tread.

The phrase “When I get the information I can start” pretty much sums up how the general public at work sees WWW – a repository-cum-postal service. W3C needs to demonstrate what’s on WWW can be the work, like online banking, if “Web for all” is to take up its full potential. When “information” got tacked onto “technology” as “IT”, and more so when everyday and specialist semantics come under this new hybrid competency, while it has to take the lead because of the diversity of practices, technology should be careful not to run a closed shop. To illustrate this I posted a scenario on the W3C forum.

Really this forum is an embarrassment. Many of the few comments posted have nothing to do with “ideas for new work or a new Community Group or Business Group” and should have been politely redirected to Stack Overflow. There seems to be no moderator, administrator nor indeed anyone interested from W3C after the first posts in 2011 (ten years after initial publication of Sir Tim’s Dream). There is no banner on W3C main page with BBC style “World Have Your Say” or anything really to show the forum exists. It all seems so different from the publicity.

I also find the following difficult to understand:

“The overall vision of the Data Activity is that people and organizations should be able to share data as far as possible using their existing tools and working practices.”

Being British myself I recognise reluctance to rock the boat but then I remember we managed to make significant progress with the opposite attitude for the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. Also I think we were quite prominent in changing banking from tail-coated floor walker at Coutts & Co to hole-in-the-wall and that conservative taste for mahogany counter service at grocers quite quickly gave way to expansion of American-style self-service more because of a brave gamble on reversing customer sentiment than any new technology like bar coding. Re-organisation and technological advance went hand in hand.

With this in mind I posted a question on semanticweb Q&A whether the problem [lack of progress] was an organisational not semantic one. I left the idea that a truly universal semantic web can only be the product of practitioner/ technologist joint venture.

I think I can do no better than to sum up using Baroness Martha Lane Fox’s comments in her Power of Open Data blog:

I was part of a panel about finance and politics which I hope the audience enjoyed listening to as much as we enjoyed participating in.
I tried to pull out these themes :
– open data has huge power but needs to move from technologists to mainstream
– the uk cannot rest on its digital laurels. we must equip the private, public and not for profit sector with the skills to handle technology better
– the ODI and others need to go on a charm offensive to make the case for more and better data

PS see also new post above (W3 operating system)

3 Responses to Open Email to Phil Archer, Data Activity Lead

  • You sent me this 11 days ago in reply to my reply to your original e-mail, an exchange that happened all on one day. FWIW I’ve been to 2 separate conferences in separate European capitals since then so I hope you’ll forgive me for not being quite so responsive as I was the first time.

    Looking around your writing here and on I think you’ve had a good number of responses, all of which are in alignment. People are adding more structured data to their Web pages for self-interested reasons (notably with, either in Microdata or RDFa 1.1 Lite). Developers who want to get at data included in Web pages even where it isn’t marked up will typically write screen scrapers and get it that way. There are many activities, indeed whole research programmes, around Named Entity Recognition, Information Extraction, Sentiment Analysis etc. And the outputs of those can be published/shared as structured data (something I’m working to encourage). But W3C running a centralised service for entity recognition? Nope, sorry, that’s not the way we or the Web works I’m afraid for the reasons others have given.

    Picking up specifically on your building supplies scenario, you might want to take a look at the CSV on the Web Working Group’s just published Use Cases & Requirements Document – I think you might find that particularly interesting?



    • Chris Glasier

      As I said before all seems OK with the work you have done with big business and governments. But it seems to me you expect everyone else to be proficient or employ technical expertise. I just don’t see how you can expect ordinary people (like real architects) to even think about putting data on the web – and they make tons of it everyday. Perhaps you don’t; in which case how can you promote Web for all?


  • Chris Glasier

    See also “W3 operating system” above


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