One of the reasons that I became interested in Linked Data was not the opportunities it gave external developers to do cool stuff with OU data; it was the opportunities it gave us at the OU to do stuff with our own data! It’s not only difficult things that I wanted us to be able to do, it was the stuff that should be really easy to do (but wasn’t) that I wanted to be made possible (actually I mean ‘cheap’, ‘easy’ and ‘quick’ rather than possible).
One of the frustrations that people in organisations all over the world must share (and I’d imagine this is especially true in academic institutions) is that the systems in which our data is locked up have grown organically, often do not talk to each other and are not accessible to anyone but the folk who work with the systems as part of their job. Much of the data tied up in these systems is actually data that we make publicly available through various channels but is only easy to use for the purpose for which that system was developed. This has ultimately meant that it is difficult for us as an institution to answer questions like ‘Which academics do we have working in the area of x and which courses does that research contribute to?’ or ‘what podcasts, videos, OERs does the OU produce that is relevant to y item in the news?’
One of the massive successes of the LUCERO project is that we have been able to free so much of this data from various silos and link it together (let alone link it to non-OU data as per Mathieu’s previous RED example) so that we can ask interesting and (more importantly) useful questions against it.
A very practical example of this happened regarding the sad news about the Tsunami in Japan. The OU has some of the world’s experts on earthquakes but no currently-live experts database. Similarly the OU has a massive collection of podcasts on iTunesU – surely there must be some content that we can highlight that will help inform the public debate and discussion around recent events? Well of course we do but it turns out that some of our systems make it very easy to find this stuff and it’s be a pain having to visit and query numerous separate locations. Fortunately a quick call to @fzablith and some cool entries to the OU linked data dev competition proved an enormous help.
Fouad quickly rustled up a SPARQL query which returned all of the OU podcasts related to earthquakes and another returning relevant OpenLearn units (of course I already had the same query in my head, I just wanted to double-check that he would do the same thing ) whilst the Expert Search (OU network only) returned a great list of all our academics who had peer-reviewed work published on the topic. All very helpful and very quick!
It’s exactly this kind of understanding of what we produce as a university and the greater opportunities it gives us to actually make use of it for a variety of purposes (course production, media relations, reuse in external environments) that makes me excited about what we’ve already achieved and what more we can achieve over the coming years.
In my own particular area of responsibility (web publishing at the OU / social web) I’m really looking forward to making our web CMS (Drupal) contribute to the data we have on data.open.ac.uk and also consume the data. Whether that’s building a new experts guide which builds on the OU people profile system and pulls in relevant data from data.open.ac.uk and external data sources, or making it easy (a few clicks of a mouse easy) for site builders with particular audiences (subject areas specific / industry specific) to include information on OU courses, podcasts, research OERs, YouTube videos etc. Watch this space!