This is a summary of a break-out group discussion at the JISC Expo Programme meeting, July 2011, looking at ‘Skills required for Linked Data’.
We started off by thinking about the first steps when deciding to create Linked Data. We took a step back from the skills required and thought more about the understanding and the basic need and the importance of putting the case for Linked Data (or otherwise).
Do you have suitable data
Firstly, do you have data that is suitable to output as Linked Data. This comes down to the question: what is suitable data? It would be useful to provide more advise in this area.
Is Linked Data worth doing?
Why do you want Linked Data? Maybe you are producing data that others will find interesting and link into? If you give your data identifiers, others can link into it. But is Linked Data the right approach? Is what you really want open data more than Linked Data? Or just APIs into the data? Sometimes a simpler solution may give you the benefits that you are after.
Maybe for some organisations approaches other than Linked Data are appropriate, or are a way to start off – maybe just something as simple as outputting CSV. You need to think about what is appropriate for you. By putting your data out in a more low-barrier way, you maybe able to find out more about who might use your data. However, there is an argument that it is very early days for Linked Data, and low levels of use right now may not reflect the potential for the data and how it is used in the future.
Are you the authority on the data? Is someone else the authority? Do you want to link into their stuff? These are the sorts of questions you need to be thinking about.
The group agreed that use cases would be useful here. They could act as a hook to bring people in. Maybe there should be somewhere to go to look up use cases – people can get a better idea of how they (their users) would benefit from creating Linked Data, they can see what others have done and compare their situation.
We talked around the issues involved in making a case for Linked Data. It would be useful if there was more information for people on how it can bring things to the fore. For example, we talked about set of photographs – a single photograph might be seen in a new context, with new connections made that can help to explain it and what it signifies.
There does appear to be a move of Linked Data a ‘clique’ into the mainstream – this should make it easier to understand and engage with. There are more tutorials, more support, more understanding. New tools will be developed that will make the process easier.
You need to think about different skills – data modelling and data transformation are very different things. We agreed that development is not always top down. Developers can be very self-motivated, in an environment where a continual learning process is often required. It may be that organisations will start to ask for skills around Linked Data when hiring people.
We felt that there is still a need for more support and more tutorials. We should move towards a critical mass, where questions raised are being answered and developers have more of a sense that there is help out there and they will get those answers. It can really help talking to other developers, so providing opportunities for this is important. The JISC Expo projects were tasked with providing documentation – explaining what they have done clearly to help others. We felt that these projects have helped to progress the Linked Data agenda and that it is an important encouraging people to acquire these skills to require processes and results to be written up.
Realistically, for many people, expertise needs to be brought in. Most organisations do not have resources to call upon. Often this is going to be cheaper than up-skilling – a steep learning curve can take weeks or months to negotiate whereas someone expert in this domain could do the work in just a few days. We talked about a role for (JISC) data centres in contributing to this kind of thing. However, we did acknowledge the important contribution that conferences, workshops and other events play in getting people familiar with Linked Data from a range of perspectives (as users of the data as well as providers). It can be useful to have tutorials that address your particular domain – data that you are familiar with. Maybe we need a combination of approaches – it depends where you are starting from and what you want to know. But for many people, the need to understand why Linked Data is useful and worth doing is an essential starting point.
We saw the value in having someone involved who is outward facing – otherwise there is a danger of a gap between the requirements of people using your data and what you are doing. There is a danger of going off in the wrong direction.
We concluded that for many, Linked Data is still a big hill to climb. People do still need hand-ups. We also agreed that Linked Data will get good press if there are products that people can understand – they need to see the benefits.
As maybe there is still an element of self-doubt about Linked Data, it is essential not just to output the data but to raise its profile, to advocate what you have done and why. Enthusiasm can start small but it can quickly spread out.
Finally, we agreed that people don’t always know where products are built around Linked Data. So, you may not realise how it is benefitting you. We need to explain what we have done as well as providing the attractive interface/product and we need to relate it to what people are familiar with.