One of the biggest worry we had at the beginning of LUCERO was that we were promising quite a lot: we were not only going to establish the processes to expose public university data as linked data, but also to demonstrate the benefit of it through applications. Originally, we naively thought that we were going to build two demonstrators, providing obvious and complete illustrations of the ways in which linked data could support students and researchers in better accessing information from the university, and better exploit it. We quickly discovered that this “killer app” approach wasn’t going to work, as the benefits of linked data appear to be a lot more in the many “day-to-day” use cases, rather than in large, “clever” application projects. In other words, as clearly shown in both Liam’s post and Stuart’s post, data.open.ac.uk is quickly becoming an essential resource, a piece of the information infrastructure, that benefits use cases, scenarios and applications of all sorts and scales.
That’s when we thought of organising a linked data application competition in KMi. KMi is full of very smart people, researchers and PhD students with the skills, knowledge and energy to build this sort of apps: lightweight, web or mobile applications to demonstrate one specific aspect and one specific use of the Open University’s linked data. I’m not going to give all the details of the way the competition was organised. We received four incredibly interesting applications (the promise of winning an iPad might have helped). This four applications are now featured on the brand new Data.open.ac.uk Application Page together with other applications currently being developed.
So, congratulations to our winners! The choice was really difficult (and you might not agree with it), as the applications described below are all great examples of the many things that can be achieved through opening up and linking university data.
The Winner: OpenLearn Linked Data (Fouad Zablith)
OpenLearn Linked Data makes use of data from data.open.ac.uk to suggest courses, podcasts and other OpenLearn units that relate to an OpenLearn Unit. The application takes the form of a bookmarklet that, when triggered while browsing the webpage of an OpenLearn unit, will add to the page small windows with links to the relevant course in Study at the OU, to podcasts from the OU podcast repositories and units from OpenLearn that share a common tag.
The great thing about this application is that it addresses scenarios directly relevant to students, prospective students and users of OpenLearn in general. It very naturally exploits the way linked data removes the boundaries that exist between different systems within the Open University, without having to change or integrate these systems.
Second Place: OU Expert Search (Miriam Fernandez)
The OU Expert Search system (accessible inside the OU network only) allows users to find academics at the Open University who are experts in a given domain, providing a ranked list of experts based in particular on their research publications. It uses information about publications in ORO and computes complex measures to provide a ranking of the people who are most likely to be experts in the given domain. It also integrates data obtained from the staff directory of the Open University to provide contact details for the people in the system.
Here as well the strong point of the application is its apparent simplicity. It is very easy to use and has been applied already for example to find Open University experts on Volcanoes (see Stuart’s blog post). Expert search is a complex task, and OU Expert Search, through the use of linked data, makes it look rather simple.
OUExperts (Vlad Tanasescu)
OUExperts is a mobile (android) application to find Open Univeristy experts in a given domain, and connect to their social network. Similarly to the OU Expert Search application, it relies on information related to the scientific publications of OU researchers, as available in ORO. It also finds synonyms of the given keywords, and tries to connect to the pages of the listed researchers.
The interesting aspect of OUExperts, apart from being a mobile application, is the clever attempt to connect to social networking website, so that it is not only possible to find an expert, but also to connect to them on Facebook or LinkedIn.
Buddy Study (Matthew Rowe)
Buddy Study suggests potential contacts and Open University courses to follow for students, based on the analysis of the topics in the user’s Facebook page. The application attempts to extract from the user’s Facebook page prominent topics, which are then matched to the interests of other people, and to the topics covered by courses at the Open University.
In this case, it is the social aspect of a user’s presence online which is used to create connections into the data from the Open University, creating easily accessible entry points to the data.