Friday, May 14, 2010

Linking biodiversity data

Time for a Friday folly. I've made a clunky screencast showing an example of linking biodiversity data together, using bioGUID as the universal wrapper around various data sources. I started with GenBank sequence EF013683, added another, EF013555, then explored some links (specimen, publication, taxon, journal), using the OpenLink RDF Browser:

You can try the URIs I used in the linked data browser of your choice:

The demo is a bit clunky, partly because the linked data browser is generic. What we really need is a browser that is tailored to displaying the kind of data we're interested, and hides the gory details under the hood. But the goal is to show that, once everything we care about has a resolvable URI that provides data in a consistent form, and we re-use identifiers, then we can glue stuff together with relative ease. In principle we can simply crawl this web of data (you can append other DOIs, ISSNs, and Genbank accession numbers to and get RDF to your heart's content).

None of this is particularly new, we've had RDF in biodiversity informatics for at least five years, there are various linked data-style projects, such as GeoSpecies and the first iteration of bioGUID, and some people (such as Roger Hyam) have been pushing HTTP URIs + RDF for a while, but we seem remarkably unable to get traction on this. Notably, no major biodiversity provider provides RDF (by major I mean GenBank or GBIF size). We make diagrams like the one I drew for GBIF last year, we make the case that linking is a Good Thing™, and yet nothing much happens. This suggests that the idea is still not be presented in a compelling enough fashion. Certainly, clunky demos like the one above probably won't help much. Linked Data clients are generally pretty awful things to use. I think we're going to need some compelling applications that really grab people's attention.