Decentralised Open Data for World Citizens

Brussels – 19 June, Christophe Guéret from VU University Amsterdam presents “Decentralised Open Data for World Citizens” at the Open Data Workshop for policy modeling, citizen empowerment, data journalism. The seminar is organized by W3C in the framework of the Crossover project. The venue is at the European Commission’s Albert Borschette Conference Center, in Brussels. The EC and many national governments are currently publishing open data and supporting initiatives in this direction. Especially the combination with social media data seems to become a hot topic.

Despite the efforts in developed countries, again the developing countries are lagging behind, now in linked open data initiatives. As we watch the geospatial distributions of open data over the world, we see initiatives in Europe and North-America, and a few in South-America. The African map is very empty, with only one small dot in Tanzania. Will this be a second wave of widening the digital divide? Expectedly the interlinking of so many new sources of data wil boost the knowledge economies in the rich and developed world. How will developing countries ever catch up the information society, if they don’t have the infrastructure to access and process all these data? Besides, open data are still very textual, and mainly written in english or a few other world languages. What about the groups that don’t have a tradition of written text? Again these people will stay at the underprivileged side of the digital divide. Is it possible to start linking data from the very beginning, as soon as they are being produced, as is happening now via innovative voice-based systems and newly developed ASR and TTS systems for very small and under resourced local languages…Are there ideas, how we can decentralise ?

The presentation by Christophe Guéret and others, from VU Amsterdam is different from others in this workshop. It is not only socially engaged, but very practical. It talks about real people having real problems. It refers to linking non-existing data, voice-based data that is currently being collected from rural communities in Mali and neighboring countries. Is it too early to talk about linking data when people don’t even have an internet connection? On the contrary, in this paper the authors argue that linked data principles can be applied from the very beginning. The Semantic XO, is developed for “one laptop per child” (OLPC) project, so that children can share and produce data while playing educative games and start creating content in a creative social space. The linked market data from farmers in Mali is an example of local trading activity, that is relevant in the local context, but can be linked with new initiatives in other regions, it is voice-based, and adapted for mobile phones, and it has the potential to connect the farmers to other trading spaces and potential customers…

This presentation is different from other topics discussed here, such as legal issues, huge datasets, governments informing citizens. The initiative presented here is the first one that tackles the problem from the grassroots in developing countries, from the farmers and the school children in remote rural areas. It is not too early to start here…

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Downscale 2012 – First International Workshop on Downscaling the Semantic Web

First International Workshop on Downscaling the Semantic Web – Crete, May 28th, in the pre-conference of ESWC 2012. Organized by Christophe Guéret and Stefan Schlobach from VUA and Florent Pigout, from OLPC.

Organizers and participants of the Downscale workshop 2012

The workshop brought together a group of computer scientists, experts in Semantic Web technologies. Although the general trend is upscaling, here, the notion is of downscaling, decentralizing, even reducing the Web of Data, for a special reason. The need for data sharing in the developing world is an important topic, especially the case of rural areas in Africa, and of schools in developing countries. Another area is disaster management, also presented here. In disaster, the amount of data is especially the issue, when rescue teams have to take fast decisions in situations that concern life and death. Here, downscaling is especially necessary to reduce the amount of data, and keep only what is relevant…
For developing countries, three topics were presented, where Linked Data can be applied: (i) Linked Market Data from rural communities in the Sahel, (ii) SemanticXO, linked data to share accross children’s computers that don’t have access to the internet, but still want to share data, and (iii) the Web of Radios, currently only a dream, but one that can become reality, positioning community radio an important future content provider in Africa.

At the conference, key-note speaker Abraham Bernstein argued that we should throw the Semantic Web into the garbage can. The audience was surprised with the answer, that they obviously had expected to be negative. On the contrary, Bernstein explained that he sees the garbage can as the place where theory and practice meet. With the metaphore in mind I thought how it would be to make this highly intellectual Semantic Web community, absorbed in theory, meet rural reality of a farmer community in Tominian, where most of the population cannot read and write. Would this meeting be useful for both groups? I mean, is it possible to bridge two worlds, making both groups learn from each other? Would it yield totally new insights? It was probably not these two extremes the keynote speaker and the conference participants had in mind, but it is an interesting experiment…