A New format for Ireland’s Geospatial Data
Irish geospatial data is now available in a new format, called ‘Linked Data’, which means that it can be used in a more intelligent and meaningful way.
What is Linked Data?
Data comes in many forms (e.g. census, geological, medical, weather) and when we analyse it we can identify trends, make predictions and inform decision-makers. We can further unlock the potential of data if it is ‘linked’.
What do we mean by ‘linked’? The Web is moving away from information that is purely for human consumption, and instead expanding to include machine-readable data. This machine-readable data is being published in a format that allows computers to automatically understand how different pieces of data are connected to one another. This interconnected, machine-readable data is known as ‘Linked Data’.
If all data was made available in ‘Linked Data’ format, then all of the data in the world could be connected and interlinked. This would change the way we use the internet, and dramatically enhance decision-making across all sectors. In other words, the more Linked Data that is made available, the more powerful our data analysis will be.
The Emergence of Linked Data
Almost 30 years ago, a computer scientist called Sir Tim Berners-Lee was frustrated because every time he collaborated on a project, all of the documents that he needed were stored on separate disks and devices across the world. Berners-Lee set about finding a way to connect all of these documents and thus invented the World Wide Web.
Berners-Lee transformed the way documents and information are shared, but in the past decade has advocated that we now also transform the way data is shared. In 2009 he said, “20 years ago I asked everybody to put their documents on the web, and you did, thanks…Now I want you to put your data on the web.”
How does Linked Data benefit you?
Linked Data has multiple benefits, for example:
- There will no longer be static pieces of data in different places all over the internet. Instead, all data will be connected. This will give you greater context and a deeper understanding of data relationships.
- Because the data is machine-readable, your computer can do more ‘thinking’ on your behalf.
- Linked data enables better decision-making.
- Your data will always be up-to-date, because the data is updated at source and automatically updated across the network.
- You will be able to use more advanced queries, and thus generate more useful output.
How to create Linked Data
Anyone can upload Linked Data as long as they adhere to the following best practice principles:
- You must assign a unique name or code, known as a URI (Uniform Resource Identifier), to every conceptual thing in the dataset, g. towns, buildings, road segments.
- The URI that you assign must start with the same characters that are used at the beginning of a website address, ‘HTTP’. This enables each item to be ‘looked up’.
- Further information should be provided about each object in the dataset, e.g. date, colour, price, rating. This further information should be provided using RDF (Resource Description Framework), which is method of describing things in such a way that computers can understand them.
In short, you must ensure that every piece of information is identifiable using a URI, retrievable using HTTP, and described in a machine-readable fashion using RDF. By doing this, you ensure that when someone looks up information, they don’t just get back the name of a place, but they also get back relationships and context about that place.
Using Ireland’s Geospatial Linked Data
In a collaboration between Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi) and the ADAPT research centre, Ireland’s geospatial information has been made available as Linked Data on a dedicated portal at data.geohive.ie.
The platform enables Irish geospatial data to be used in a more intelligent and meaningful way. For example, to visualise census information on a map, you could use the Linked Data platform to access Irish administrative boundary data and then combine it with the 2011 Census data which has been published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) as Linked Data.
The CSO has the mandate to collect, compile, extract and disseminate information relating to economic, social and general activities and conditions in Ireland and intend making this data as outlined in this collaborative project available on their StatBank statistical database (data.cso.ie). It will also employ OpenCube toolkit to reuse datasets in a scenario that requires geospatial analytics and forecasting.
The Future of Irish Geospatial Linked Data
Ireland’s geospatial Linked Data has ‘5 Star Data’ status, a quality rating that recognises data that has been shared on the Web according to best practices. The data provides an authoritative platform for serving Ireland’s national geospatial data, including Linked Data. Currently, the platform provides information on Irish administrative boundaries and was designed to support two use cases: serving boundary data of geographic features at various levels of detail and capturing the evolution of administrative boundaries. We aim to incorporate other administrative boundaries and other types of features in the future.
Acknowledgements. This OSi project was undertaken in partnership with the ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology and was funded under the SFI Research Centres Programme (Grant 13/RC/2106) and co-funded under the European Regional Development Fund. OSi would furthermore like to acknowledge the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) and the Central Statistics Office (CSO) for their input as a stakeholder.
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