Linked Data Gives People Power, Part 1 of 4
Editor’s Note: The World Wide Web went live 20 years ago this month, on a single computer in Geneva, Switzerland. For the anniversary, the Web’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, has written an exclusive article for Scientific American. In it, he confronts various threats that could ruin the Web, and explains why preserving the basic principles that have allowed the Web to flourish is essential to preventing its destruction.
While preparing the article, Berners-Lee also spoke to Scientific American about emerging Web capabilities that could change how the online and physical worlds work. This four-part series covers some of the most intriguing, including the power of linked data, social machines, free bandwidth to the masses and Web science.
Indeed, the Web is thriving—a recent cover story in Wired magazine to the contrary notwithstanding. Scientific American editor Mark Fischetti tackles the differences between the two magazine’s treatments in his blog, “The Web is (Not) Dead.”
Putting raw data on the Web and linking it to other data is bringing powerful new research and analysis capabilities to Web users—capabilities that far exceed what’s created by the hyper-linked documents we are all familiar with. “Twenty years ago I had to encourage people to put their documents on the Web and make links to other documents,” says Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Web, which went live in December 1990. “We have to now do it again, with linked data.”
Examples of the power of linked data arise daily. In Britain, The Times picked up raw, linked data about bicycle accidents from DirectGov and published a mashup map showing where bicycle accidents had occurred, so cyclists could be aware of the many dangerous spots along the city’s roads.
In Zanesville, Ohio, a civil rights attorney for a nonprofit group created a mashup map showing which houses were connected to town water lines and which houses were occupied by black or white families, according to census data. It revealed that the local utility was discriminating against blacks, and a judge imposed damages.