Why it's great that Tim Berners-Lee is advising the British Government.

The announcement that Sir Tim Berners-Lee will be advising the UK Government is important not because he invented the world wide web, it’s not even because he’s very clever, and so credible he’s hard to ignore.

It’s simple because he’s really is obsessed with data. I know that seems like statement of the bleedin’ obvious but its worth saying.  This is good news because he really does know what he’s talking about. If you want to appreciate how much he cares, watch this TED.com talk from February 2009:


In it he talks about his concept of Linked Data, which asks for 3 things:

  1. Individual bits of data should also be given web addresses, that’s an address beginning with http for every bit of data within another document: people, places, events, products, genes, chemicals etc etc.
  2. That data appears in some sort of useful protocol.
  3. When we get the information it also contains relationships –  and whenever it expresses a relationship, the thing it relates too also has an address starting with http.

So Tim Berners-Lee cares about much more than the mechanics of how we move to HTML 5 (the new rules for how we will work the www).  He cares about how data can make government more transparent and help knowledge evolve faster.  His role will include (hat tip to Tom Scott):

  1. overseeing the creation of a single online point of access and work with departments to make this part of their routine operations.
  2. helping to select and implement common standards for the release of public data
  3. developing Crown Copyright and ‘Crown Commons’ licenses and extending these to the wider public sector
  4. driving the use of the internet to improve consultation processes.
  5. working with the Government to engage with the leading experts internationally working on public data and standards

He also believes in the power of grassroots movements. That’s Us.  As he puts it in the talk:

I asked people to put their documents on this web thing, and you did!  Thanks.  It’s been a blast.

He understands that the remarkable thing about the internet is we built it.  It flourishes because we choose to share stuff with each other using the rules he created back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

So a world wide web of Linked Data is not something he expects big commerce or big government to take sole responsibility for. He expects us to learn how to do it, just as every time we add something to Facebook we show that we have learnt how to play our part in making the World Wide Web.

You might also want to listen to this interview with Rory Cellan-Jones, about the problems of bureacracy. Emma Mulqueeny thinks his reputation will bring much needed “serious intervention” to a data muddle, while Paul Canning echoes that, hoping that (with the departure of Tom Watson from the Cabinet Office) Sir Tim might be able to act as a data head-banger.

4 comments

  1. I don’t disagree Nick, but TBL’s vision for all this is so far beyond the current reality – not just in government, but generally – that he can’t seriously hope to bring it into Whitehall with a big bang. It’s his personal credibility (including his passion for the notion) that will get the ball rolling. And he knows which direction he wants the ball to roll; that’s pretty crucial too. But TBL has always been playing The Long Game. And it’s just as far away now as it ever was.

  2. Nick, I read with interest your blog on Tim Berners-Lee being appointed to advise the Government on making data transparent.
    You might like to know that the House of Lords Information Committee is conducting an inquiry on ‘People and Parliament’, looking into how the House of Lords can improve public understanding of its work and role, and how people would like to interact with the House of Lords and Parliament: http://www.parliament.uk/hlinfocom/
    As part of that inquiry, the Committee has received a number of submissions about making more parliamentary data available in accordance with open standards. See, for example: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/ppBevanBrittanSolicitors.doc
    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/ppSimonMcManus.doc
    The Committee will publish its report next month.
    Richard McLean
    Clerk to the House of Lords Information Committee

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