linked data – lots of upside but major rethinking required

Linked data poses some interesting questions for us as individuals and in our organisations. Traditionally we have held that information is power – and therefore have guarded our information. Much of the time this has included guarding our data. To make linked data work we are looking to encourage much greater publications and sharing of data.

I was recently looking to complete some research on behalf of a client. It required me to review financial and operational information (including annual reports) for approx. 50 global companies. After some google work I ended up looking through a whole series of pdf files – available on the internet – and compiling my own analysis. And I have no easy way of updating this analysis.

However if this data were published in a different format – to facilitate its being read and analysed by computer applications – then this analysis would have been available to me instantaneoulsy. And updating the analysis would be trivial.

Back to safeguarding our data and/or information. If you have invented coca cola and have the secret formula then you want to keep this secret. Your concern is that you have a fantastic product and you want to maintain your competitive advantage.

If you are a soft drinks manufacturer you probably also know what percentage of nine year old males, living in any particular catchment area, drink your product more than once per month. This data is also of value to you – perhaps in terms of planning marketing campaigns, advertising initiatives, pricing plans. But perhaps you would be willing to share this information – in order to be able to correlate it with information that other groups may have about habits of youth in a particular neighbourhood.

Is there any real point in people the world over wasting time effectively completing the same analyses – in private companies, government bodies, voluntary organisations? Is it not an incredible waste of time? In fact, in an era when we have finally begun to concern ourselves with energy waste can we not recognise that this duplication (many times over) of effort is a major societal waste of time?

We have driven some of the sharing of data through initiatives re disclosure – to protect shareholders, citizens, etc. However we have not yet got to the point where we are rewarding companies and organisations for making more of their data available in useable formats. There are major potential savings and benefits if we can change the mindset.

I do not underestimate the challenge faced. Our business training and experience has been to develop and maintain competitive advantage through having greater insights, knowledge, etc. What the semantic web is suggesting is that to succeed we should be much more generous with our own data – in order to gain access to far richer and deeper data, while at the same time serving the common good. We now need to see real sample models for people and companies adapting and succeeding with this approach.

Author: Barry OGorman

Barry O'Gorman is an independent business and IT consultant, based in Dublin, Ireland.

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