JISCExpo: Community and Linked Data

I’m at the #jiscexpo programme meeting today and tomorrow…

Ben O’Steen is the first formal talk of the day … talking about ‘community’…

Ben notes that SPARQL has a very bad reputation – people don’t like it and don’t want to use it. Taking a step back – SQL is standard way of interacting with databases, but in general you don’t write SQL queries against someone else’s database – and v unusual to do this without permission and documentation etc. (I guess unless you are really hacking into it!)

In general SQL databases are hidden from ‘remote’ users via APIs or other interfaces which present you with views on the data, not the raw data structure.

So what does this tell us about what we need to do with Linked Data?

Interaction Feedback Loop – fundamental – if you can get this you get engagement. Example ‘mouse presses button, mouse gets cheese’ – this encourages a behaviour in the mouse. Ben uses World of WarCraft as example of interaction feedback loop that works incredibly well – people write their own programmes and interfaces for WoW.

Ben notes this is not about Gamification… this is about getting pay-off for interaction.

Ben sets some homework – go read http://jboriss.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/user-testing-in-the-wild-joes-first-computer-encounter/ – blog post about user testing on web browsers and the experience of ‘Joe’ a 60 year-old who has never used a computer before – and what happened when he tried to find a local restaurant to eat in via three major web browsers “There is little modern applications do to guide people who have never used a computer”.

Sliding scale of interaction

  • googling and finding a website;
  • hunting and clicking round the website for information;
  • using a well-documented or cookie-cutter API (such as an Atom feed or a search interface);
  • Using boolean searching or other simple API ‘tricks’ –
    • WITHOUT requiring understanding of the true data model

Ben now going back to SPARQL – it is common when interacting with an unknown SPARQL endpoint to become frustrated….

What do you need to understand to craft successful SPARQL?

  • RDF and triple/quad model
  • RDF types and namespaces
  • structures in an endpoint
  • SPARQL syntaxes
  • SPARQL return formats
  • libraries for RDF responses
  • libraries for XML responses
  • … and more

Developers are clamouring for APIs

  • Every new social/web service is seen to be lacking if it is missing an API due to desire to build mobile applications
  • Whilst SPARQL can be seen as the ultimate API, then the ultimate Twitter API would be access using its Scala/Java libraries
  • Many need to see the benefits of something simple in order to hook them into learning something more complex

Taking an ‘opinionated view’ on information helps adopters – offering a constrained view of the model. Could offer csv/json/html views on the data behind a SPARQL endpoint. Ben notes ‘access to the full model is a wonderful thing’ – but don’t forget (paraphrase) ‘most average developers want constrained view’
Ben now talking about schema.org – new intiative from Google, Bing and Yahoo! Ben notes – schema.org delivers ‘cheese’ immediately – clear that the reason you want to do this is to improve search engine results.

Ben notes – schema.org contains very ‘opinionated’ views of the things it can describe – but this gives simplicity and lowers barriers to adoption.

Schema.org going to increase the amount of structured data on the web –

In summary:

  • Be empathetic to those who don’t understand what you are doing
  • Need to provide gamut of views on your data
  • You don’t have to use a triplestore to use RDF
  • Raw dumps of data are often far better than dumps of structured data such as RDF if that structure is not documented
  • “Semantic Web” has garnered such a bad PR that ‘we’ (?) are on the back foot – things and attitudes need to change or it will be forgotten in favour of schema.org

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