Making the Most of Open Data through Linked Data

A guest blog by @ricroberts, CTO of Swirrl, creators of The award winning Linked Data Publishing platform.

Studies around open data often focus on the “armchair auditor”, and although these people do exist they are just a small contingent of those who could benefit from good open data. When considering the audience for open data we should also include consumers, businesses large and small, and decision makers in public and third sectors.

Except to true data nerds, data in its raw form isn’t really of much interest to anyone. Released datasets can often be too big to open in Excel, and can contain unfathomable codes or abbreviations. So, open data isn’t an end in itself: the true value still waits to be unlocked.


In order to release the data’s value, we need applications or interactive websites which allow people to browse, slice, summarise and query the data in a way that is relevant to them. This is where events like the Developing Solutions Camp competition come in.

But everyone’s idea of “relevant” is different, and producing a fully generic application that remains useful to everyone is almost impossible. The most effective applications and visualisations often provide just one view of the data, and have a narrow focus of interest.


This is where introducing an additional layer between the raw data and the applications can be useful. By standardising access to the raw data through an Application Programming Interface (API), developers building applications don’t have to worry about dealing with the original (possibly inconsistent) data. An emerging best-practice for providing access to open data is the concept of “Linked Data”.

Linked data

Using open, established standards from the W3C, Linked Data exploits the strengths of the web to interconnect data, put it in context, and allow comparisons. It provides a representation of the data which makes it easier to build applications and visualisations on top of it.

By using Linked Data APIs to provide full access to the raw data, it makes developers’ lives easier by allowing them to focus on building their applications, and it avoids the problem of data-silos which can arise when multiple different application developers each parse and load the data in to their own closed database systems. We’ve put this to the test in applications we’ve built ourselves like our “IMD Mapper“.

…and our Trafford Council spending demo.

Better outcomes

If the power of data can be harnessed by building applications which offer useful windows through to the data, the outcomes can include better decision making, improved accountability and higher levels of efficiency (through reuse of knowledge, and reduced duplication of effort). All of this eventually leads to the ability to provide better services to the public.

I’ll be attending Kent’s Developing Solutions Camp event in the role of mentor/”critical friend”. I have a lot of experience working with open data (linked and otherwise). One of the key things I’ll be able to help with is advising people how to use existing Linked Data sources in the apps, such as geographical or statistical data. If anyone has any queries they’d like help with before the event, please feel free to contact me: [email protected], or if you’re interested in learning about Linked Data in general, please check out my blog.

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