Linked Data and RDFa in US and UK government web-sites

20 Nov 2009

Two exciting pieces of RDFa news arrived within ten minutes of each other in my Twitter client. Both concerned governments making data open -- one in the US, and the other in the UK.

The first item was a reference by Steven Pemberton (@stevenpemberton) to a story in Information Week, which explained that the new media team at the Whitehouse plan to use more RDFa in their pages. Scanned PDFs are no longer good enough, according to deputy director David Cole.

The second item came via Andrew Lewin (@draml), and concerns the release by the COI of guidance on how to mark-up vacancies and consultations with RDFa, which I'm pleased to say I helped to write.

This latter announcement is particularly exciting for RDFa, for a number of reasons.

First, it's a real-world usage of the syntax; it's not an announcement of something that someone, somewhere, hopes to do in the future -- the vocabulary is there, servers are deployed, and this is a set of instructions to people who produce government web-sites on how they should mark up their pages if they want their data to be consumed.

Second, it's exciting because the use of RDFa is extremely leading-edge. Of course it's great to see people groking RDFa as a way to do things like improve search, but the COI realised long ago that RDFa could also be used as a mechanism to ease the publishing and centralisation of data. This is something that I think we can expect to see more of, in the coming year.

(A full description of the project can be found at More RDFa goodness from UK government web-sites. It's also discussed in Mark Birbeck interviewed by Paul Miller about RDFa.)

And finally, I find this announcement exciting because the guidelines document uses the term 'Linked Data' throughout. This reflects an extremely deep understanding of the implications of what COI are doing with RDFa; the COI do not simply explain to people how to publish vacancies and consultations to the web -- they are describing how to publish that data to the Linked Data cloud. The introduction is forthright on this:

Government is committed to making its public information and data as widely available as possible. The best way to make structured information available online is to publish it as Linked Data. Linked Data makes the information easier to cut and combine in ways that are relevant to citizens. This document describes how to put government consultations information into Linked Data.