As well as making commonly used identifiers available for easy use and re-use by means of HTTP URIs, there is clearly value in following the examples of both the Linking Open Data Community Project and the UK Government in identifying commonly used data sets that the community might benefit from seeing made directly available for use and reuse as RDF. Ready access to rich data from beyond the institution should serve to reduce costs when implementing new systems that require these data, minimise duplication of effort, and create opportunities to make existing applications richer and more accurate by reference to authoritative resources elsewhere. New applications should also be possible that a lack of data previously rendered either too expensive or impractical.
In many cases, existing policy will support making data freely available once identified and (if necessary) converted. In other cases, it may be necessary to explore commercial licensing of resources before they may be used.
Recommendation 4: evaluate the effectiveness of the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) Unlocking Service, and consider whether a similar approach might be used in helping the community identify data sets to prioritise.
Once identified, there is a role to play in matching data custodians with groups capable of helping convert and/or host the data, and groups of end-users capable of validating whether or not the conversion meets their requirements. The organisations responsible for maintaining specific resources may wish to make them more widely available, whilst lacking the technical skills to realise their ambition. Equally, many of those with the requisite skills do not directly control relevant data of their own, and both would benefit from some form of clearinghouse that brings them together in order to facilitate a transfer of skills and the building of necessary capacity within the sector.
Recommendation 5: evaluate the effectiveness of existing community efforts such as Data Incubator, and establish a register of individuals and organisations able to convert data or provide the necessary training. Allocate funding to a number of initial data conversions, prioritising proposals that demonstrate a meeting of data, conversion skills, and an identifiable user community with clearly expressed requirements.
To permit effective and widespread reuse, data must be explicitly licensed in ways that encourage third party engagement. A growing body of work exists in this area, and it is not necessary to reopen the debate. It is, however, necessary to ensure that existing approaches meet the needs of the sector, and to evangelise suitable solutions.
Recommendation 6: undertake work to validate existing data licenses such as those from the Open Data Commons. Actively engage with Government work on data licensing. Disseminate findings via relevant JISC channels e.g. Innovation Support Centres and Advisory Services, and evaluate the feasibility of high level endorsement for an Open Data approach.
The emphasis of Linked Data activities tends to be placed upon sharing large data sets using rich and expressive mechanisms such as RDF, but there is also value in enriching web pages through the addition of structured markup in formats such as RDFa especially now that Yahoo! SearchMonkey and Google Rich Snippets explicitly crawl these.
RDFa is particularly useful in adding explicit structure to descriptive content, and might be used in everything from OPAC pages describing a book to the University vacancies site with relative ease. Mark Birbeck, who originally proposed RDFa, recently completed work to add RDFa to job information provided by all central Government departments. The added structure has little impact upon the workflow of those advertising the individual vacancies, and does not affect the look of the page. Behind the scenes, the additional structure enables vacancies from across Government to be aggregated onto a single site, and also raises the visibility of these pages on RDFa-aware search engines. Similar approaches might usefully be taken on university web sites to describe the institutions (on the home page), vacancies, publications, courses, and more.
Although there have been ad hoc efforts to make data from specific university systems available in the past, usually on a case-by-case basis, repeating the exercise using RDFa offers a useful introduction to the issues likely to be posed by any wholesale embrace of the Linked Data rules. Certain institutions may well opt to bypass RDFa and move straight to full-blown RDF. For others, this intermediate step may prove more achievable in the short term.
Recommendation 7: demonstrate the utility of embedding RDFa on institutional web pages by providing funding to add RDFa to course and module descriptions, mandating use of common identifiers such as those offered by JACS. Award funding to demonstrations of added value, such as a UK course finder or a plug-in for a professional body’s web site that advertises courses relevant to the profession. Assess the role of XCRI in supporting exposure of course data to the web.
 http://wiki.creativecommons.org/CC0, http://www.opendatacommons.org/