Don’t forget the carbon filter! Linked data, programmers and librarians.



Qantas Computer Room, Mid 1960s, originally uploaded by glen.h.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend Talis Linked Data Open Day – USA hosted by Talis Consulting. Walking into the event, I seriously had major reservations about linked data and libraries. I think most of skepticism was based in a healthy distrust of (and major fatigue from) “buzzword blowhards.” In libraries, it seem like we keep getting people proclaiming “Get with the Semantic Web and Linked Data or die!” if we get anything at all. It’s frustrating because nobody’s really sure what any of it is going to mean and it’s not exactly ready from prime time. (Bad BBC-related pun intended… they use a lot of linked data.)

I learned a lot yesterday and already have ideas for getting started. One thing that I really liked about the whole thing was how much Richard and Alison from Talis stressed that it’s iterative and exploratory. You just have to try something, but you can’t do it all. I am totally guilty of trying to radically change the whole thing, when really I should just accomplish a chunk and build from there.

I’m a linked data believer now. It worked.

The real take away from the event though was how important people are to the whole thing. There were a lot of people there who were interested in Enterprise solutions for linked data. (Enterprise is rarely if ever open.) You could tell who the majority of these people were based upon their questions which revealed a fundamental thing – they expected the machines and programs to do all the work. From my understanding, linked data works because people decide which data sets/ontologies can be trusted and worthwhile to link to. (Which is something librarians are really awesome at.) If your data has issues, linked data won’t necessarily fix it, nor is it the most approriate solution if a relational database works well. Computers are not that intelligent yet. It’s not Skynet. Garbage in, garbage out. It makes complete sense that linked data and the semantic web can’t change that.

The one thing that is true about all this is that we need to get used to “good enough”, which is something I know lots of librarians freak out about but not all. There were a few times when people made disparaging remarks about librarians married to MARC and shocked by linking to Amazon, and a lot of other related things. While I don’t deny there are a lot of librarians who fit that mold (hell, I know several), that’s not all of us. It sure wasn’t the two in the room. MARC is awesome for what it does, but it can’t do it all. It’s sort of like the Enterprise people trying to get the linked data hammer to pound every nail in sight, regardless if it’s the right tool for the job.

So, going forward I’m going to read up on RDF and SPARQL and try to test some things out. It might be the future, it might not. It sure is interesting and worth exploring. Just remember, people are at the heart of it.

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