Back in the days when there was no web, Tim Berners-Lee wrote a memo about the possibilities of using hypertext links to name pieces of information that could be linked together on the internet. He saw that there was great benefit in surfacing the documents that sat on hard drives around the world so that we could all share and learn from each others’ experience. Later he learned that his boss had written ‘vague but exciting’ in the memo’s margin.
Today, as he points out in this video, there’s a similar feeling of untapped potential. Not from putting documents on the web, but by drilling down into the structure and content of documents, lists, databases, spreadsheets and websites and finding the raw data. And once you’ve got it, linking it up in useful ways.
This linking up of data lies at the very heart of the ALISS project – this is why we’re building the ALISS Engine.
Individual sites create silos of information about self management activities around the web: databases, documents and lists, scattered around Scotland. Whilst this is a great start, we have to know that these websites exist, visit them and then search for what we need. We can use the web a whole lot better to help people find self management resources nearby. The idea behind linking up this data is to get this information out of the silos and onto the web for all to see. For us, this means records of activities that can help us to live well – exercise classes, lifestyle management courses, walking groups and the like.
The ALISS engine will be an index of links to the records that great directory services around Scotland are already gathering – but it will be open to all and in one place. Of course, the key to making this kind of thing really useful is not just to make it available but to give the data some context and show the relationships between different types of data. So, we’ll join the dots and make links where it’s sensible to do so. For example, at the moment we might have access to a record that describes a class for people living with chronic pain. It might tell us where and when it happens. What we’re hoping to do is look around at other data sets that are available and see if there are any other useful services we can link to the record – such as which bus will take me there? What other activities take place close by? What have other people said about the class?
So, the Engine make will the information available much richer – and make it available to everybody, not just those that happen to search a particular database. In some cases, we’re likely to find duplications or different versions of the same information and here, the Engine can help to simplify things too, by providing a link to just one, correct place – the original source.