Last week, I attended the ISKO ‘Linked Data – The Future of Knowledge Organisation on the Web‘ conference at University College London. I’ve been to two similar day-long conferences in the past year or so. They’ve always struck me as important and interesting, but the overall feeling has always been of great worthiness. Now, of course, this isn’t a bad thing. Some of the most important and vital things we could do with data and information set free on the Web would be to use it to improve Government and our lives in general. And yet…it almost feels too important. If I was working in that area, I’d feel immense pressure not only to get the data out there, but to get it right – because it matters, it really does.
Part of the message that the leaders of the Linked Data movement are trying to get out there, quite rightly, is that, whilst this is a valid concern, it shouldn’t paralyse us into not releasing the data until it’s just right. Get the data out there, publicly admit that it’s not quite perfect, what it’s based on, and what you need help with, and people can and will, work together to improve things for everyone. To be honest, I think that’s the same in lots of cases, including trying to construct ontologies and ways of working with Linked Data. You’re not going to get it right first time – and that’s OK. Admit where you’re not sure, and encourage others to help you. One unanswered barrier in my mind still exists, though. Somewhere I was told that once you make an assertion in RDF, you can’t delete it. That’s good, because we should always have a record of what’s happened – but it’s also kind of scary, because I know mistakes will happen – if I make an assertion about the wrong thing, no matter how careful I’ve been, what then? Am I doomed? I need something that can calm these fears, otherwise I’ll never be truly happy with producing Linked Data – not because I don’t want to, but because I want to do my best with it.
Back on topic – although the work being done with Government data, as I say, is all very important, there still remains an atmosphere of almost stifling academia about the whole area. Again, I don’t want to criticise the tremendous efforts and advances people much cleverer than I have made in this domain, but I do feel that if we really want Linked Data to reach the mainstream, to be taken up by a much wider audience, then we need not only to ‘market’ ourselves better (personally I think this can be misinterpreted to mean bullishly proclaiming a cure for hunger whilst ignoring the hard work), but we need to start applying these techniques we’re learning in wider, more mainstream spheres.
Of course, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m talking about areas like drama, entertainment, documentaries and sport. Areas which are beginning to embrace the Web, but all too often don’t go far enough, in my opinion. ‘Transmedia’ is the current popular term for, essentially, telling stories over multiple media. Probably the best example of this would be the Matrix – the films, the animations, the games – you may agree or disagree with the actual quality of the story content, but it cannot be disputed that the way the Wachowski Brothers used the different media at their disposal was spot on – in the audiences’ mind, no matter what the media, there’s a coherent story world, where all parts slot in together to provide a richer experience. Since the early 2000s, of course, the web has been boom-town for social media and marketing experiments, along with other attempts that are often seen as heralding a new media age – and that’s great. But there’s one thing that (in my opinion), they’re all missing. The potential of the Web as a Web. Exactly what the Linked Data community can provide.
So, this blog post is a call to arms. Let the world of Linked Data and Transmedia collide. What can we teach each other? What can we create if we pool our resources? Because I don’t just want to read, listen or watch transmedia stories. I don’t just want to share it with my friends, or upload my own videos. I want to grab on to the characters, the key moments, the places where they’ve been. I want to explore. I want to get vertigo. I want to point-at-things. And then I want to meld them into something new. This isn’t just about video or audio mash-ups. This isn’t about Government data mash-ups – this is about building a ‘digital infrastructure’, an architecture, the lego bricks that will allow us to truly create new things. Rather like the Matrix, I guess….