An important part of the work we are doing is to provide easy access to data, so developers can re-use it in their own applications. Many developers want to download datasets to include in their application. This works well, especially for smaller datasets or those that do not change frequently. However, as part of the data.gov.uk project we are making available large sources of data available. Our aim is to provide programmatic access to the data, so people can use it more easily and also combine data from a number of different sources, without having to download terabytes of government data first.
Rather than create many different bespoke APIs, which would be time consuming and expensive, we are using Linked Data technology to provide flexible and easy programmatic access to the data we are making available.
To do this, we take a dataset, model it using RDF and publish it to one of the data.gov.uk stores. There are a number of different stores (e.g. education, transport, environment, etc.), for different sectors and themes of information. From there the data can be queried using SPARQL.
If you’ve not heard about SPARQL before, you are in for a treat. The language itself will be reasonably familiar to those used with working with SQL, but instead of querying your local database, with SPARQL you can query data using the web. We’ll be developing fuller guidance and how-tos as we go forward, but until then, there are several tutorials for SPARQL on the web. Jeni Tennison, one of the team members, has a blog which includes a lot of examples of working with Linked Data. If you’re looking for an introduction, this post on using the Talis Connected Commons platform is a good place to start, as is this by Leigh Dodds of Talis.