Talis, my employer, has been a big promoter of Linked Data and open-access to information, because we see that new ideas often arise when existing ideas come together. Innovation, if you like, occurs at the join between ideas when they connect. I see this as fundamental to the way ideas and their applications (technology) advance. I tend to believe that anything “novel” is actually affected when other ideas are connected together.
In the technological world, this seems like a strong analogy for Linked Data: information which can be connected by a web-like network of links. These Linked Data have become the foundation for what has come to be known as the “Semantic Web”, a web of connected information which breaks out of information silos and enables the discovery of new ideas from old, and innovation from existing information. We use the phrase “serendipitous reuse” for the idea that once an idea (or a piece of data) is published, it can be used and reused in novel ways and in context of other data to produce unexpected, and unforeseeable possibilities. These ideas (data, again) become increasingly useful when published in a format which allows them to be linked freely to ANY other piece of information. We’ve had the distribution method for this network for years (the good, ol WWW itself) and it’s been about a year since RDF was launched by the WWW Consortium to handle the data itself. The idea is basically to give every bit of data an address (a universal address, not one subjective to a database like a cell reference), and to predicate that bit of information very much like language does. If you think of it like a language, RDF lets bits of data (nouns) to be acted upon or act upon (verbs) others (other nouns). This triple-format enables a near infinite recombination (theoretically) of any data, anywhere with an address.
So, what’s the problem? Well, most of the world’s data are locked away in silos (prisoners of the cells their databases confine them to). Many organisations may wish to make use of their data in a semantic environment, and many might even embrace the Open-source nature of their data, and make it freely available to the world to recombine and use: there are always more innovations outside an organisation than within! In order to lower barriers to enter this linked data world, Talis has built a Platform with resources to host and utilise these connections, making use of semantic web standards (RDF and SPARQL, the query language of the semantic web) and a developer-friendly environment (a RESTFul API, for example).
However, this innovation is only possible when data are accessible. In order to further lower the barriers, Talis is now offering free access to the Platform to host public domain data. We are calling this initiative the Talis Connected Commons, and the offer is not limited to free hosting: the data access services, including access to a public SPARQL endpoint, are also freely available. To keep this data open, you will need to use either the Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License or the recently launched Creative Commons CC0 license to publish data. Anyone will then be able to freely access the stored data using the Platform services, without API keys and without usage limits.
There is more information available at www.talis.com/cc, where you can find detailed technical information, FAQ’s and other resources.
Image: “Eggistentialism 1.5 or Three of a Perfect Pair” by bitzcelt (via flickr), CC Licensed