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Semantic Web Prospects and Party Sentiment Unfold in U.K. Elections

By   /  May 9, 2010  /  No Comments

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Photo, courtesy Downing Street on Flickr.

In the wake of Britain’s elections last week, the Semantic Web may well have lost one of its political allies. The week’s end saw U.K. conservative leader David Cameron and the Liberal Democratic party of Nick Clegg trying to reach some settlement about a coalition to create a stable government. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who in March heralded the establishment of and £30 million funding for the Institute of Web Science headed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, appears to be left out in the cold, even being urged to quit by those within his own Labour party.

Does Brown’s possible impending doom in any way imperil the advance of the Semantic Web work he championed to make government data more available and transparent? The Institute’s funding promise, it seems, will have to be seen through by the victor in the less-than-clear election. And if one is to believe the personage Lord Matt, identified on his Facebook site as a public speaker, blogger and agent of change, things may not look so good. He writes in a pre-election posting:

“I certainly get a feel from Conservative quotes that they are so aggressively anti-labour (what’s new) that they are ready to savage Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s work that could be the tool through which real democratic reform can arrive.


This leads to a question of picking sides.

1. You choose the left with the current incumbents – Labour. That means you put up with unsatisfactory financial leadership that left us hurting after the sub-prime crash in America (thanks, guys) took us down with it while Bank Bosses Bonked off with piles of cash. But we be sure of the prize of an open government and the tools for change.

2. You vote for Lib Dems leaving the remaining voters to choose for you.

3. You choose the (further) right risking the changes of an untested leader and a not so united party. You get change on a business level but not knowing if the words of the right have any good ideas behind them you are betting on change for its own sake. You get the satisfaction of sticking it to a party that has not always made us happy and letting the other guy get a shot. But you risk throwing away the open government that Sir Tim has been asked to create.”

Well, whatever the results ultimately will be for the now-hung Parliament and what they ultimately mean for the Semantic Web’s forward momentum at the highest levels of government, this posting at least seems to back up the talk in the papers and among the TV pundits last week about what the British and the upcoming U.S. elections say about our respective countries – mostly to the tune that government is broke and the major parties don’t seem to be able to fix it.

So Who Will Govern?
Jayne Coulthard over at electiontrends.blogspot.com, has been following the elections, and putting a semantic/sentiment analytics spin on the topic to provide some insight into whether the public wants a conservative/liberal alliance.

She’s done a contextual analysis of words for over 4,500 comments on the BBC Have Your Say website. Coulthard looked for words appearing in context with the word ‘government.’ The two word pairs — ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberal Democrats’ and ‘David Cameron’ and ‘Nick Clegg’ — are both closely associated with the word ‘government,’ pointing, she says, to the public discussing these two parties and their leaders in relation to their forming a new government.

Poor Brown doesn’t fare well in her examination of the reaction to Gordon Brown. She writes,

“In contrast to the other two leaders, we see some strongly negative words coming through, such as ‘resign’, ‘lost’, ‘mess’, ‘wrong’ and ‘unelected’. It is also interesting to note that Nick Clegg is shown in extremely close context to Gordon Brown but this is not the case the other way around. This shows that the only option open to Gordon Brown is the deal with the Liberal Democrats. However Nick Clegg has both options open.”

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Next stop on the text and sentiment analytics train: Kapow Technologies, which brought us RealityBuzz, also has its ElectionBuzz UK, which is gathering real-time web data from sources such as Twitter, Facebook and the main political blog sites, using Clarabridges’s text analytics technology.

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In its analysis just a few days before the election, its readings of the online community led it to conclude that they were indeed shying away from the Labor party. “It’s a little less clear which party is currently in first place (given usual margins of error), but crucially, it’s certain that the Liberal Democrats have never been in such a strong position capturing 33% of all social media conversations and chatter,” it noted.

But it ultimately concluded that the Liberal Democrats didn’t seem to be able to capitalize on the boost of positive sentiment they say after the first debate to “grow their share of voice. Given the UK electoral process, this means they don’t have enough positive sentiment to translate into significant seats. And those they do win will be stolen from Labour – who will be the big losers tomorrow. The Tories will win the most seats and … possibly enough for a majority Conservative government!”

No party did have a clear majority, as it turned out, and the UK may be facing another election within a year’s time. We’ll be watching to see how that year will trend for the U.K. government’s Semantic Web efforts, too.

About the author

Jennifer Zaino is a New York-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology journalism. She has been an executive editor at leading technology publications, including InformationWeek, where she spearheaded an award-winning news section, and Network Computing, where she helped develop online content strategies including review exclusives and analyst reports. Her freelance credentials include being a regular contributor of original content to The Semantic Web Blog; acting as a contributing writer to RFID Journal; and serving as executive editor at the Smart Architect Smart Enterprise Exchange group. Her work also has appeared in publications and on web sites including EdTech (K-12 and Higher Ed), Ingram Micro Channel Advisor, The CMO Site, and Federal Computer Week.

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