Tutorial/Linked Data

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DRAFT, in development. See the the slidy (slides) version.

Title Mission Possible: Deploying Government Linked Data (Pt1)
Author Sandro Hawke, (sandro@w3.org), W3C/MIT, @sandhawke
John L. Sheridan, @johnlsheridan
Event gov 2.0 expo, May 25-26, 2010, Washington DC

Mission Possible

Part 1:

  • What, exactly, is Linked Data?
    • The big picture and today's building blocks

Part 2:

  • Viewing Your Data as Triples (slides)
    • Working with RDF vocabularies; communicating via triples

Part 3:

  • Publishing Triples on the Web (slides)
    • The mechanics and politics of actually making the data available

please send comments and questions to sandro@w3.org subject 'tutorial'

Part 1: Fundamentals

  • Context and Motivation
  • What is a URI?
  • What is an RDF Triple?
  • Data dormats for RDF Triples

About Us

  • @sandhawke
    • programmer (C, C++, Java, Perl, Prolog, now mostly Python)
    • at W3C since 2000, doing RDF, OWL, RIF, SPARQL, Govt
    • W3C: consensus standards, founded by TimBL 1994
      • about 60 Working Groups doing HTML(5), CSS, SVG, XML, Accessibility
  • @johnlsheridan
    • Civil Servant since 2004
    • lead on Linked Data for data.gov.uk
    • co-chair of W3C e-Government IG

About You (Just Curious)

  • Do you work for the government (Federal, State, City, County) or for a supplier?
  • Can you read/write HTML?
  • Can you read/write some data format:
    • JSON, XML, SQL?
  • Can you program in some language:
    • C, C++, Java?
    • Perl, Python, Ruby?
    • Javascript?
    • XSLT?
  • Do you know how HTTP works:
    • Response Codes (eg 403 Forbidden)?
    • Content Types and Content Negotiation?
    • RESTful APIs?
  • Formal math, logic, logic programming?
    • The difference between "domain" and "range"?
    • The Unique Names Assumption? Negation-as-Failure?


  • Growing demand for open government data
    • US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, ...
    • Astrurias and Catalan Regional Governments, London, Vancouver, ...
  • Many motivations
    • transparency and engagement
      • holding government accountable and promoting choice by informing citizens
    • efficiency and enhanced public services
      • enabling re-use of information within the public sector
    • innovation and economic growth
      • encouraging and supporting data-based innovation

Download and Programmatic Access

  • Downloadable datasets
    • Excel, CSV, XML
    • global data
    • one-off visualisations
    • static data
  • Programmatic access
    • JSON / XML APIs
    • local data
    • on-demand visualisations
    • changing data

About the "Semantic Web"


  • The Web should be more than just documents for people to read
  • Allow machines to traverse, aggregate, analyze, answer
  • TimBL's vision, but it's a big tent
    • "Semantics", "Ontologies" (Research Funding)
    • Web Architecture, REST

See Kate Ray's Web 3.0 Video (esp. until 3:37 or 6:50)

Linked Data has a narrower goal; uses some of the same technologies.

What Is Linked Data?

Extending spreadsheets and databases to work over the Web.

  1. Give web identifiers (URIs) to things
  2. Publish information about them as Web Resources (good website architecture)
  3. Use Triples (subject, property, value)


Data at http://dbpedia.org/page/Massachusetts
Subject Property Value
http://dbpedia.org/resource/Massachusetts http://dbpedia.org/resource/nickname "Bay State"

Benefits of Linked Data

  • Enables web-scale data publishing
    • distributed publication with web-based discovery mechanisms
  • Everything is a resource
    • discover more about properties, classes, codes within a code list (we'll explain more)
  • Everything can be annotated
    • make comments about observations, data series, points on a map (we'll explain more)
  • Easy to extend
    • create new properties as required, no need to plan everything up-front (we'll explain more)
  • Easy to merge
    • slot together RDF graphs, no need to worry about name clashes (we'll explain more)

Why does Linked Data make sense for government?

  • Responsible Publishing of data (we'll explain why)
  • Combine different data about the same things, although it is held by different parts and levels of government
  • Can make it easier for people to consume your data (we'll explain how)
  • Can help solve some snags other approaches miss

RDF Triples


Quick Demo

Data at http://dbpedia.org/page/Massachusetts
Subject Property Value
http://dbpedia.org/resource/Massachusetts nickname "Bay State"
  • ... and try to imagine you're a machine.

So How Do You Add Your Data?

  1. Think in Subject-Property-Value Triples
  2. Use URIs
  3. Publish on the Web

URIs (A Little Web Architecture)

URIs are like URLs, with a few extra tricks.

Long history, "Web Architecture", lots of debate.

Here it is, put simply.

Information Resource

  • Anything whose current state can be entirely represented in bytes.
  • This is what we see on the Web, including:
    • documents (maintained, or frozen)
    • video and audio recordings
    • photographs, drawings
    • databases (product catalog)


  • Anything at all. Anything anyone can conceptualize.
  • Includes Information Resource, of course
  • Also includes:
    • specific people, cities, countries
    • my dog, the set of all dogs, the set of all animals
    • ... even Unicorns and Dragons


art credit

URLs identify Information Resources

URIs identify Resources

Any resource. Using filenames for things that aren't files.

  • They often look just like URLs (many are URLs)
  • But they can behave differently

Hash and Slash

Two kinds of indirection:

  • Hash URIs contain a hash ("#") character: http://vocab.deri.ie/dcat#granularity
    • chop off the hash and everything after it
    • do your GET on what's left
    • see what the result says about full, original URI
    • Sometimes it turns out to be a "fragment" URL
      • Hopefully it's not both (but it happens sometimes)

Hash vs Slash

Hash URIs:

  • easier to construct
  • more efficient on a small scale
  • often used for small, controlled situations

Slash URIs:

  • more control over user experience
  • better scaling

You'll see both.

When publishing, your software may choose for you.


  1. Use URIs to identify things
  2. Think in Triples
  3. Publish on the web

Publishing Data

  • There's lots of choice!
  • Don't be overwhelmed, it means there's at least one method that will work well in your situation.
Publication Method Advantages Disadvantages
RDF/XML Document Oldest, best supported Confusingly like normal XML
Turtle (N3) Document Simplest Not technically a standard yet
HTML Document with RDFa Fits inside HTML attributes Can get very complicated
JSON Normal JSON, but also RDF Promising, but still being developed
GRDDL Use the XML you have/want Needs to download+run XSLT
SPARQL Query Protocol Query Protocol

RDF/XML Example

<rdf:RDF xmlns:rdf="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#"
  <rdf:Description rdf:about="http://dbpedia.org/resource/Massachusetts">
      <rdf:Description rdf:about="http://dbpedia.org/resource/Deval_Patrick" />
    <db:Nickname>Bay State</db:Nickname>
      <rdf:Description rdf:about="http://dbpedia.org/resource/Boston"> 


Turtle Prefixes

First triple:

       <http://dbpedia.org/resource/Deval_Patrick> .

Abbreviate it:

@prefix db: <http://dbpedia.org/resource/>

db:Massachusetts db:Governor db:Deval_Patrick.
  • Read the same by turtle parsers

Turtle Example

@prefix db: <http://dbpedia.org/resource/> 

db:Massachusetts db:Governor db:Deval_Patrick;
                 db:Nickname "Bay State";
                 db:Capital db:Boston.
db:Boston        db:Nickname "Beantown".

RDFa Example

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"
      version="XHTML+RDFa 1.0">
    <title>About Massachusetts</title>
    <div about="http://dbpedia.org/resource/Massachusetts">The
    Massachusetts governor is
      <span rel="db:Governor">
	<span about="http://dbpedia.org/resource/Deval_Patrick">Deval
      the nickname is "<span property="db:Nickname">Bay State</span>",
      and the capital
      <span rel="db:Capital">
	<span about="http://dbpedia.org/resource/Boston">
	  has the nickname "<span property="db:Nickname">Beantown</span>".

distiller community site

One Possible RDF-JSON Example

{ "__iri": "db:Massachusetts",
  "db:Nickname": "Bay State",
  "db:Governor": { "__iri": "db:Deval_Patrick"  },
  "db:Capital": {  "__iri": "db:Boston",
                   "db:Nickname": "Beantown"
  "__prefixes": { "db:": "http://dbpedia.org/resource/" }

One Possible GRDDL Example

<MyDataSet xmlns="http://example.org/my-data-xml-namespace">
    <nickname>Bay State</nickname>

All the hard work is done by an XSLT program downloaded via the XML namespace URL. (Not implemented for this demo, sorry.)

spec demo service


  • A query language, somewhat like SQL
prefix db: <http://dbpedia.org/resource/>
prefix dbo: <http://dbpedia.org/ontology/>
SELECT ?dnym WHERE { db:Massachusetts dbo:demonym ?dnym }
prefix db: <http://dbpedia.org/resource/>
prefix dbo: <http://dbpedia.org/ontology/>
SELECT ?cap WHERE { db:Massachusetts dbo:capital ?cap }

dbpedia sparql service and sparql tutorial

Content Negotiation

How do you manage all these options?

  • Information Resources can have multiple Representations
  • When you GET, you can say which type you want (HTML or XML say)
  • HTTP Server returns an appropriate representation


curl -L --header "Accept: application/rdf+xml" http://vocab.deri.ie/dcat
curl -L --header "Accept: text/turtle" http://vocab.deri.ie/dcat
curl -L --header "Accept: text/html" http://vocab.deri.ie/dcat


  • You will run into some issues:
    • Long term critics of the Semantic Web
    • Data consumers who don't want RDF
    • Suppliers trying to sell a different technology
    • Gov people who think you're trying to spoil years on work on their XML Schemas
  • Listen and re-assure - Linked Data can help all these people too!