At the Semantic Technology and Business Conference last June in San Francisco, David Rogers of the BBC was on-hand to educate attendees on the origins and progress of the BBC's impressive Linked Data Platform. In his presentation, Rogers -- who serves as Senior Technical Architect for BBC Future Media (News & Knowledge) -- explained how the news giant's use of semantic technologies has evolved since they first turned to Linked Data to better report on the 2010 World Cup. Currently, the BBC Linked Data Platform works with content across the company, including news, sports, music, location, and learning.
Rogers started things off with a little history. Leading up to the 2010 World Cup, the BBC wanted to create a sports website, and they found that RDF triplestores were the best way to connect and organize their player, team, and tournament information. Pleased with what they'd accomplished, the BBC amped things up a few notches for the 2012 Olympics. Everything got scaled up, their data became more dynamic, and all while relying on the simplest metadata possible. Before the Olympics, the BBC Sports website had information on 300 athletes. By the end, 1,100 athletes were covered semantically, allowing the BBC's vast pool of reporters to all draw upon the same data and interlink their content in an easily discoverable manner.
Following that success, Rogers and the BBC have gone a step further. Only they've actually gone about a dozen steps further. Sports, after all, are pretty easy to work with. There are only so many outcomes that can occur, only so many types of games, penalties, players, etc. Sports are a relatively simple domain to work within. The news, on the other hand… the news is a whole other ball game.
So how do Rogers and his team deal with the exponential expansion of information they want to represent semantically? They keep things simple.
Their goal with the Linked Data Platform was to get content into RDF triplestores with minimal metadata so that they could output semantic content that was more discoverable and re-combinable. "We're using just enough metadata to work," Rogers noted. "Full metadata for a piece of content isn't in the Linked Data Platform. You need to go somewhere else for that."
With automated index pages, the Linked Data Platform has opened the door for semantic navigation and semantic search. Currently, options for searching the Linked Data Platform are pretty limited. Users need to search for actual words that are indexed within the system, but the BBC is hoping that users will soon be able to search for concepts in order to get better results.
Areas of the BBC that are currently covered by the Linked Data Platform include BBC Sports, BBC Knowledge & Learning Beta, BBC Music, and BBC News Local Beta.
At the heart of the Linked Data Platform is the BBC's CreativeWork Ontology:
"Almost the entire ontology is shown on this slide," Rogers told us. With this ontology, the BBC is trying to figure out the pieces of their content that their audience is most interested in. "We're not trying to get more complicated than necessary." For complicated pieces of information that they'd like to express but which don't quite fit into the ontology, Rogers' team creates rules in the code. "It's much simpler" than changing the ontology, he noted.
The BBC has a lot of exciting work ahead of them with the Linked Data Platform, and Rogers is fortunate to be working within an organization that can envision the full potential of semantic technology. "From the software industry perspective, sem-tech is not considered mainstream, and it's hard to sell," Rogers commented. "It scares the execs. Sem-tech needs to focus more on simplicity and abstraction. Yes, the tech is complex, but using it doesn't need to be." He added, "There must be better ways to hype the inevitable complexities of sem-tech so that outside people can pick the technologies up more quickly and more effectively."
Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts on semantic technology and simplicity in the comments. You can also learn more about Linked Data and other semantic technologies at the upcoming Semantic Technology and Business Conference in New York City. Learn more and register today.
Images: Courtesy David Rogers, BBC