You may have heard or read about two seemingly rather dull announcements from the UK government relating to Met Office and the Ordnance Survey data in the last day or so. What has actually been announced though is quite interesting – and perhaps even revolutionary.
The government has decided to make data from these organisations (or at least a certain amount of it) freely available to the public. What they are hoping to do is encourage entrepreneurs to develop new businesses through the inventive use of this data. It is hoped this will generate tax revenue greater than could have been realised by selling that data for commercial use.
This is a very interesting move on the part of the government that could result in the creation of a wide range of new businesses.
But surely this is a bit too forward thinking of a government that is most likely approaching the end of its days? Well yes it is. The idea was actually seeded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the web, and Professor Nigel Shadbolt from the University of Southampton. Both were recently appointed as government advisers on technology.
For Sir Tim and Professor Shadbolt, the real motivation here will be to encourage the growth of the semantic web, which has been long talked about but painfully slow in realisation.
Essentially, the semantic web is an ongoing effort to make the web more “intelligent” by allowing it to "understand" and satisfy user requests (including requests from machines) to a greater degree. At the heart of the semantic web is linked data and because much of the data held Met Office and Ordinance Survey can be classified as linked, it is essentially semantic web ready, making it ideally suited to the purpose of encouraging the next stage in the Internet’s evolution.
This article from the FT provides more detail on the government’s announcement and is worth reading: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cdcc60a2-e399-11de-9f4f-00144feab49a.html
A Star Wars example of how semantic web works – taken from the excellent folk at http://www.howstuffworks.com/semantic-web.htm