In the early 1990s there began to emerge a new way of using the internet to link documents together. It was called the World Wide Web. What the Web did that was fundamentally new was that it enabled people to publish documents on the internet and link them such that you could navigate from one document to another.
Part of Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of the Web was that it should also be used to publish, share and link data. This aspect of Sir Tim’s original vision has gained a lot of momentum over the last few years and has seen the emergence of the Linked Data Web.
The Linked Data Web is not just about connecting datasets, but about linking information at the level of a single statement or fact. The idea behind the Linked Data Web is to use URIs (these are like the URLs you type into your browser when going to a particular website) to identify things such as people, places and organisations, and to then use web technology to provide some meaningful and useful information when those URIs are looked up.
Ordnance Survey’s Research Department, which is where I work, has been interested in Linked Data for quite some time, and the release of OS OpenData means that the fruits of these labours can now be realised, providing Ordnance Survey with an opportunity to make a major new contribution to the Linked Data Web.
As a first toe in the water we decided to produce a gazetteer of the administrative regions of Great Britain. Each region is given a unique identifier in the form of a URI and described in terms of its name and the spatial relationships it has to other regions.
So, for example, if you look up The City of Southampton (identified by this URI) you’ll find a list of all the wards contained in Southampton along with the counties and unitary authorities that Southampton is adjacent to.
Last week saw another milestone release when we published URIs for every postcode in the country and linked these to URIs for the administrative regions. The URI for our head office postcode (SO16 4GU) is:
Looking this up you’ll see that Ordnance Survey is based in the ward of ‘Redbridge’ and also ‘The City of Southampton’.
This offers great potential to data publishers. By linking to identifiers for places and postcodes in your data you can enrich the information you hold.
Imagine you have a list of schools and their postcodes. By connecting to the URIs for those postcodes you have a whole new way to view and analyse your data. Through the link to the postcode you now know the ward, district and county those schools are in. This is a very simple example of how merging two sets of linked data can deliver benefits.
We are already seeing quality linked data being published elsewhere, notably from the likes of the BBC and data.gov.uk to name two.
As more data is published the opportunity to create interesting applications based on combinations of these datasets grows. We suspect location will create a key information hub for many of these and applications…imagine the possibilities!
If you’re interested in Linked Data and want to find out what you can do with it, there is more information on my blog.