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OPINION: Want to share climate information? Then let’s mash up our data together


By Denise Recheis, Knowledge Management Specialist, REEEP

Mashing up data doesn’t sound very appetising.  But it can make a lot of sense.  And with the new concept of ‘Linked Open Data’ it could revolutionise how climate information is published and shared.

It’s all about unlocking your information or raw data and making it available to others, in formats they can interpret, so they can make use of it in new and different ways.  Instead of holding on to it and requiring users to come to your website to search for what they need, what if your content was also available through dozens of other websites?  And what if you could pick and choose from the most interesting material around the web and bring it all together on your website to create a distinctive blend or ‘mash up’ of your own?

Being able to link between websites was a founding principle of the web.  The concept of Linked Open Data takes it to a whole new level.  What started out as a discussion among web enthusiasts is fast becoming a movement that could transform the way data is published and shared, helping to break down silos, reduce duplication of effort, and encourage closer collaboration between different knowledge players.

How could these principles be applied to the energy and climate sectors, where the silo phenomenon is alive and well?  This was the focus of a workshop in Abu Dhabi in January 2012, organized by the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) in the same week as the World Future Energy Summit.

Staff from the clean energy information portal, reegle, which is managed by REEEP, have taken on a pioneering role in promoting Linked Open Data concepts within the energy and climate sectors, and led the Workshop.  They launched a new publication, ‘Linked Open Data: The Essentials’, which explains the basics and provides a quick start guide for decision makers considering joining the Linked Open Data ‘cloud’.  It also describes some best-practice examples of where these principles have been put into action.

Reegle’s country energy profiles are a prime example of how mashed-up data can be more interesting than it sounds. These dossiers present the reader with statistics, maps, general facts and policy and regulatory details in an easy-to-understand format. The information is largely provided by other Linked Open Data providers such as DBpedia (Wikipedia), the UN and World Bank, OpenEI and other trusted sources.  Instead of reegle having to assemble this content manually, using Linked Open Data protocols it can be brought together automatically – providing users with a more rounded picture of the information available on renewable energy in a particular country.

Reegle has gone a step further in realising the potential of Linked Open Data by developing a specialist thesaurus covering over 1600 clean energy and other climate-related terms.  For the casual user browsing the reegle website, this thesaurus is accessible as a glossary including definitions collected from various authoritative sources. An interactive visual browser helps deepens understanding by showing the semantic relations of each concept – so a term like ‘climate compatible development’ can be put in context of other broader, narrower or related terms. Linking up concepts in this way allows both humans and machines to connect related content – which can be a huge advantage in our increasingly complex world.  All the knowledge stored within this thesaurus is available for free to others to reuse, and reegle is working with partners as part of a CDKN-funded project to develop new online tools to allow other sites to share this functionality and content.

Integrating the principles of Linked Open Data has had a welcome side-effect, which was highlighted in the recent workshop:  sharing data is often a good starting point for collaboration between organisations with a similar agenda.  Sharing data very often also means sharing the work burden. It allows organisations to concentrate on their specific areas of expertise while freeing up resources from work that can be taken over by others. And sharing the end results of such targeted efforts generates higher-quality content than could be achieved by any one organisation acting alone. It also means those results can be shared much more widely.

Going back to a culinary analogy –if you bring in the potatoes, I’ll provide the cream (it is a special occasion), and someone else can bring the salt and pepper.  Together we can make a great mash up!

“Linked Open Data: The Essentials” is published by Semantic Web Company and REEEP and is available as a downloadable PDF (http://www.reeep.org/LOD-the-Essentials.pdf) as well as a booklet that can be ordered online (http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/3902796057/).

reegle is committed to increasing the share of information available as Linked Open Data, and will continue to actively support other organisations thinking of following this route.  Contact Florian Bauer at REEEP for more information.

 

Image: Linking Open Data cloud diagram, by Richard Cyganiak and Anja Jentzsch. http://lod-cloud.net/

We occasionally  invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN.

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