What is linked data?

The fact that data comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes has already been blogged about, but what is the concern about adding data into online journals? after all, printed journals have included data in the shape of graphs or tables for a great many years. The problem is now that the journal article and its corresponding data is no longer in the flat two dimensional world of a piece of paper, but is part of the multi-dimensional world of the internet, the data is linked to something else. Linked data, according to Bizer, Heath and Berners-Lee (http;//linkeddatte.org/docs/ijwis-special-issue) is the method by which data is connected, structured and published on the web resulting in a “web of data”. Linked data “refers to data published on the web in such a way that it is machine readable, its meaning is is explicitly defined, it is linked to other external data sets and can in turn be linked to from external data sets”.

Before the data is published and linked, it has to be put somewhere. Most of our research participants said that they store their data in a personal storage system, either their own work or home computer, or on a portable storage device. While, of course, such spaces may be linked to the internet, it is rather like keeping the data in a filing cabinet, although anyone can go and find the data, they have to search very hard or ask the data keeper to give it to them. Data therefore has to be uploaded to a space that is openly accessible, which could be a university repository, a subject repository, a web page, or even onto the publishers own servers.

Again this is not as simple as it seems, first you have to choose your repository and ensure that it will accept your sort of data. Once safely held in a repository, the data must be permanently linked and archived. As digital repositories are relatively new things, there is the question of what if the repository you have chosen has to close? where will the data go? If the data is uploaded onto the publisher’s server, do they have the capacity to hold all the data for all the journals that they publish, as well as all the articles? Suddenly the storage needs of a single article can become top heavy. At the moment there are not very clear answers to these concerns, therefore there needs to be some guidelines and methods of best practice resolved before all data can be truly linked.

Summary of workshop, discussion about the nature of JoRD

Here is another summary of the concluding discussion that took place at the workshop on 13th November. This is about the expectations and perceptions of publishers concerning the nature of the JoRD Data Bank service.

A prominent consideration of the publishers was that JoRD should be an authoritative resource, such that a JoRD compliance stamp, or quality mark, could be displayed on Journal’s websites. There was discussion that for JoRD to be authoritative, the content of the database should be added, updated and maintained by the JoRD team. It was mentioned that publishers might initially populate the data base, but ongoing maintenance would be the responsibility of JoRD. However, there should be a guarantee that the content is accurate and that publishers would need to commit to providing policies that can be machine readable in order for them to be automatically harvested.

It was suggested that the operational database should not be merely a static catalogue or encyclopaedia. It was requested that the non-compliance of a journal to a data sharing policy, or to a funder’s policy, could be flagged and reported to the publisher, although that request was queried as to whether that was the remit of the service, or the publisher themselves. Similarly, it was questioned whether the service would mediate user complaints, and proposed that it would engage with complaints concerning policies only. To maintain functionality, could there be automatic URL checking which would send an alert to the publisher if links were broken.  Updates to policy changes would also be a useful function.

The service website should include a model data policy framework or an example of a standard data policy and offer guidance and advice to journals and funders about policy development. However, the processing and ratification of a model policy could be a time consuming process to some publishers. It was asked whether repository policies would also be included, and there was mention of compliance with the OpenAIRE European repository network. The website should also contain:

  • Links to the publishers web-pages
  • Dates of the records
  • Lists of links to repositories
  • Set of criteria for data hosting repository

It should look inviting, but businesslike and be simple and clear, but be sufficiently detailed.

Methods of funding the service were considered and the benefits of membership. For example, would only the policies of members to the service be entered into the database? Would there be different levels of membership or different service options that publishers could choose? and would there be extra costs for extra services? One such service could be to contain historical records and persistent records to former policies. In the publisher’s opinion, they would be prepared to pay for a service that is transparent and would save them time.

Other comments included:

  • Would the service be a member of the World Data System?
  • Could it be released in Beta?
  • There are around 4-600 titles to enter initially
  • When set up the service could be studied to discover its effectiveness and impact
  • Further consultation may be needed

Online survey results part two

The second set of questions asked in the online survey ask for the opinions of researchers about data sharing and the usefulness of a data policy bank service. They are as follows:

  • Where do you access or locate the research output of other researchers?
  • In your opinion are the key drivers behind increasing access to research data?
  • In your opinion what are the main problems associated with sharing research data?
  • What do you think about linking a publication with digital data that are integral to its main conclusions?
  • What do you think about linking an article with supplementary material that enhances the article?
  • Do you think that journals should provide digital data sharing policies?
  • Do you think there would be benefits in having a service offering information about journal research data policies?
  • Would you use a service of this kind?
  • What information should be included in a policy bank service?
  • Do you have any other comments?

Most of the respondents locate other researcher’s data from colleagues or in their own institution or organisation and feel that the four most important key drivers to increasing access to data are:

  • Openness
  • Accountability
  • Increased access to data
  • Increased efficiency of research resources

The most frequently expressed concern is that of attribution of intellectual property right to the data being shared. The next frequently expressed issue is that current  institutional and establishment models and mindsets of institutions and some individuals create barriers to sharing data. However just over one-third of respondents (35%) consider that linking digital data as an integral part of  main conclusions in published online journals would be useful and should be mandatory.

Linking articles to supplementary data to enhance the article was considered useful by more respondents (43%) but it would also depend on the context of the data shared. Over 74% of researchers considered that journals should provide data sharing policies and a similar percentage (73%) thought that such a service would be of benefit, because it would be a central resource. Nearly 80% of respondents said that they would use such a service, either to gather data, or as a means of selecting where to publish their work. Many ideas of what to include in a policy data bank were suggested, which included:

  • Clarity and simplicity of use
  • Archiving URLs
  • Guidelines
  • Usage licences (eg Creative Commons)

Eight researchers commented that they considered the initiative important.

The least number of respondents said that they gather other research data from their own blog, or from hard copy data sets. The concerns expressed about sharing data were those of trust, confidentiality and the need to overcome existing mindsets and institutional barriers. A small number of researchers felt that sharing data would affect the future of research and that before sharing data certain conditions would have to be fulfilled. A very low number of people (3%) said that linking data to main conclusions was not useful and unnecessary; that they would only be interested in a published article, not in any additional material and that journals should not provide data sharing policies. One researcher commented that further research about the topic with a trial  would help their decision as to whether published data sharing policies would be of personal benefit.

Three percent of respondents thought that there would be no benefit to a data policy bank service, because it is not needed, not feasible or there would be conflicting journal ethos. Twenty one percent considered that they would not use such a service because they did not find it relevant and one researcher stated that they would prefer to deal directly with the journal.

On balance, it appears that more respondents are pro-data sharing, have positive opinions about the JoRD policy bank service and would find it useful, than respondents who feel that there is no need or use for such a service.