rsz_w3clogoThe World Wide Web Consortium has headline news today: The Semantic Web, as well as eGovernment, Activities are being merged and superseded by the Data Activity, where Phil Archer serves as Lead.  Two new workgroups also have been chartered: CSV on the Web and Data on the Web Best Practices.

What’s driving this? First, Archer explains, the Semantic Web technology stack is now mature, and it’s time to allow those updated standards to be used. With RDF 1.1, the Linked Data Platform, SPARQL 1.1, RDB To RDF Mapping Language (R2RML), OWL 2, and Provenance all done or very close to it, it’s the right time “to take that very successful technology stack and try to implement it in the wider environment,” Archer says, rather than continue tinkering with the standards.

The second reason, he notes, is that a large community exists “that sees Linked Data, let alone the full Semantic Web, as an unnecessarily complicated technology. To many developers, data means JSON — anything else is a problem. During the Open Data on the Web workshop held in London in April, Open Knowledge Foundation co-founder and director Rufus Pollock said that if he suggested to the developers that they learn SPARQL he’d be laughed at – and he’s not alone.” Archer says. “We need to end the religious wars, where they exist, and try to make it easier to work with data in the format that people like to work in.”

The new CSV on the Web Working Group is an important step in that direction, following on the heels of efforts such as R2RML. It’s about providing metadata about CSV files, such as column headings, data types, and annotations, and, with it, making it easily possible to convert CSV into RDF (or other formats), easing data integration. “The working group will define a metadata vocabulary and then a protocol for how to link data to metadata (presumably using HTTP Link headers) or embed the metadata directly. Since the links between data and metadata can work in either direction, the data can come from an API that returns tabular data just as easily as it can a static file,” says Archer. “It doesn’t take much imagination to string together a tool chain that allows you to run SPARQL queries against ’5 Star Data’ that’s actually published as a CSV exported from a spreadsheet.”

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