Tim Berners-Lee remains hopeful that the Institute of Web Science and his promotion of open government data has a future, despite Monday’s announcement that plans for institute are to be axed as part of the government’s plan to slash public spending.
Berners-Lee and his colleague Professor Nigel Shadbolt expressed disappointment with the government's decision not to go ahead with the creation of a £30m Institute of Web Science - but said they "understand that immediate decisions had to be made" to cut the government deficit.
Announced in March, the Institute for Web Science was designed to put the UK at the cutting edge of emerging web and internet technologies and was to be headed up by Berners-Lee and Shadbolt from the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science. At the launch, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it help would ensure that government took the right funding decisions to position the UK as a world leader in the sector.
However, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said on Monday that it could not afford to create and develop the body in the current economic climate.
Despite the setback, Berners-Lee and Shadbolt said this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the open linked data initiative that was to be promote by the institute.
“It is clear from the new government's Big Society declaration, the Coalition Partnership and speeches such as David Cameron's to TED before the election that open government data is a high priority. Our understanding is that the data.gov.uk portal will in fact grow significantly in the months to come.
"Linked data and the new technologies supporting it will, in the near future, enable better public services to be delivered for less, and promote new business opportunities."
During a presentation at a World Wide Web Consortium event last month, Berners-Lee pointed to several examples using open linked data. For instance, in 2009, the UK government had posted a machine-readable list of bicycle accidents in and around the London area. Within a few days, the online division of The Times newspaper folded that data into a map.
He also pointed to how, in 2008, a lawyer had merged two data sources - housing data along with the routes of water lines - to show, for a class-action lawsuit, how black residents around Zanesville, Ohio, did not have the same access to municipal water lines as whites did.
"The government is maintaining its commitment to the linked data it has already published and to the very large amount which remains to be published," said Berners-Lee and Shadbolt this week in a joint statement.
"As we enter a phase of cutting back on many things, the linked open data movement is a crucial tool, for government, public and industry to get the most value from the important resources being opened up. During times of austerity, transparency is essential, and open data will play a crucial role."
BIS has said it remained committed to investing in internet technology research.
"The research councils are investing £117m in a Digital Economy Program to help drive research in this area and more than £30m is being invested specific projects relating to the semantic web," BIS told ZDnet.
The move is part of Chancellor George Osbourne's plan to cut £6.2bn of public spending, which also saw the British Education Communications Technology Agency (Becta), which handles technology in UK schools, scrapped.
Image credit: paul_clarke on Flickr
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