At Swirrl, the focus continues to be bringing more users aboard the Linked Data train. It’s helping to realize this aim in part thanks to the work it’s doing with customers, primarily in the government sector. The company’s bringing its PublishMyData platform (which The Semantic Web Blog first discussed here) to customers such as the U.K.’s Department for Communities and Local Government, which is looking to Linked Data to help publish statistical data and useful reference data about local government and also information about the department’s performance to increase transparency, which is consumed primarily by other public sector organizations, charities, and entities that report to the department but are not part of it.
“Usually that was done in a mish-mash of technologies, and depended on individuals that do lots of hard work with spreadsheets to make it work,” says founder and CEO Bill Roberts. He characterizes the department’s move to Linked Data as a bit of a leap of faith, driven by its open data strategist Steve Peters and a vision of what can be achieved by moving in this direction. During engagements like this one, Roberts notes, Swirrl has gotten some strong insight, as well, into how to improve its solution for people who aren’t “dyed-in-the-wool Linked Data heads. That’s fed into things we’re working on,” including plans in the pipeline to build tools that make the self-service process easier.
“It’s improving the data management tools side of the product to increase the quality of what people do themselves – for example, more data-checking tools , more automated options, different frameworks for [handling] shapefiles,” he says. “We get a lot of those and are building tools to process those and turn them into RDF.”
Swirrl also is looking at infrastructure engineering enhancements, with the idea if having an automated way of signing up new customers and generating a triple store and other infrastructure to get them started. “We want to move to more of a SaaS model,” Roberts explains.
Roberts agrees that there’s a lot about Linked Data that is still fundamentally difficult to tackle, but he’s encouraged by what he sees as fair progress made in surmounting obstacles. “It’s a combination of better tools, a growing understanding of what it’s about, and more people doing it so they learn from each others’ experience and can copy things,” he says. “And it does become steadily easier as more and different people publish Linked Data. And there are definitely a lot more people than there used to be.”
Especially in the government sector, where Swirrl is mainly involved, Roberts sees patterns emerging that indicate that communication among various parties is taking place – which is a good thing for moving Linked Data forward. Swirrl also is involved with the UK Government Linked Data Working Group and its work at helping to generate best practices around Linked Data that the government potentially may accept as formal standards. He’s also encouraged by work like the Open Government Partnership Summit that took place in London in the fall, which helped promote the idea that “stuff that started as hugely experimental [including but not limited to Linked Data efforts] is worth taking forward in a more official way with more backing. I suppose that is a sign of technology maturing and the government starting to build that into business-as-usual,” he says.
As Swirrl continues to move in the direction of enabling more self-service and automated tech, Roberts sees Linked Data taking big strides of its own. Not everyone is going to want to deal in Linked Data and RDF, “but if you did the work of making some decent Linked Data, it’s easy to produce information for others in the format they want it. We’re now using Linked Data more for what its worth is as web scale data integration technology, and [leveraging] it to present information in other ways for different audiences,” he says. “That’s getting pragmatic, that’s addressing the needs of end users and giving people what they want for particular purposes and context.”