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Tim Berners-Lee: The next Web of open, linked data March 15, 2009

Posted by psychobserver in Social Networking, TED Talks, Trends.
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I got back to watching some TED talks and the talk from Tim Bernes-Lee felt like a good one to start with. In his talk he reveals his vision for the evolution of the Web, moving from sharing documents to sharing raw data. The presentation is very visionary and somewhat scary I would say.

Watch it below:

If I get the idea well, Linked Data means that when browsing the Web “tomorrow” instead of looking through documents (web pages), the search engine (or whatever is used to browse) will look through raw data. So, I guess one could type a question like “How many friends does Nicolas Lassus have?” and get results from many different places/databases that would answer that question.

Personally, I see quite a number of huge hurdles to overcome before something like that could work. The first thing is something faces by Wikipedia everyday. How do you ensure that the data is accurate and legitimate? Even if people are not trying to manipulate others, there are so many ways to calculate something that just providing raw data can be totally unusable. For this to work, everything around the world would have to be entirely standardize. For example, the way unemployment rate is calculated in different countries is different because of each country’s specificities (or political agenda). Theoritically speaking standardization would be great, but is it realistic?

Another problem is that data is actually a huge business. The open source concept is great, but gathering good data is actually a very time-consuming and tough job. How do we “reward” the people who bring the data to the masses? Personally, I am not a big supporter of the free economy and I believe things that are free today, may not be free tomorrow anymore. Somebody at some point in the supply chain has to pay for things.

The last problem is privacy. If people are able to post data about other people on the web. How do we control that? Facebook and other social networks are testing the limit of this on their side and it will be interesting to see where things go… (I’m reading some articles on the topic and will try to write a post soon about that).

This said, Linked Data can definitely have great applications in some fields. All the fields where data standardization has been happening really fast in the past like financial reporting, corporate social responsibility, etc. Linked data in that field would be a great advance. As I worked on CSR a bit, I really feel that all these reports corporation work so hard on producing should be replaced by Linked data. Something that allows people to easily compare and analyze what companies are doing to make better informed decisions about their purchases or which brands they supports. This standardization has already started and there is just a very small step to make to actually make Linked Data a reality… whether something like that could spread to the whole Web will be interesting to witness.

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