Access Innovations recently debuted Data Harmony Version 3.9. Within its new features and fixes is a sneakily clever module called Inline Tagging. On the surface, it does exactly what the name says: It allows the user to see in a piece of content, quickly and clearly, what concepts in the text, exactly where in the text, triggered subject tagging by the software. It seems simple enough, a handy tool, but upon closer inspection, it really opens doors for the user.

Once the text is tagged, it becomes a question of what the user wants to do with it. That’s where the possibilities start to get really intriguing. In part, it allows an editor to do some very helpful things internally. Once term indexing triggers are tagged in a document, the editor could, for instance, go to the terms’ thesaurus listing, where they can see broader and related terms, along with synonyms or any number of facets of the taxonomy.

Thus, Inline Tagging is a helpful tool in aiding the editing process, but my thoughts are moving more toward the end user right now. It’s they who can truly reap its benefits. That’s because Inline Tagging can easily serve as a conduit for linking data, which has the potential to dramatically enrich a user’s search experience; absolutely crucial, especially in publishing.

We’ve already seen how massive the amount of data in the world has become, and we’ve seen the need to understand and control it. We see the emergent patterns in that data, and we work with it to discover new avenues for viewership or revenue or education. But that’s using just a handful of datasets. No matter how large they might be, the size of that data pales in comparison to the data in the world. If we could harness that power, what could we do?

Linked data, which has emerged as one of the most important concepts in data publishing, could well be the answer. In a database, one that implements Inline Tagging, the key terms and concepts in the documents are located at their occurrences within those documents. By using Inline Tagging, you turn a passage of text into a data item that can be quickly plucked for analysis. But how does that help us?

It can work on a number of levels. This can be as simple as having a taxonomy term link to a definition page, with broader and narrower terms, synonyms, etc. That right there can help with clarity, speed, and accuracy, but that’s just the beginning. There could also be a more substantial relationship between a thesaurus and the world’s data, one that allows users to take those data items and send them out to mine the web for related tags, drawing them back to the original page as related materials.

Say somebody is starting to write a paper on how a cheetah raises its young. They go online to research it and find a paper that addresses the topic perfectly. Now, this website also happens to implement linked data, so when the user queried “cheetahs raising young,” not only did the search result in a strong match on the site, it also, in turn, queried the cloud of data in the web. On its own, it locates information on other sites on the same topic and pulls down additional links: a wiki page, other related articles and papers, videos, or really anything.

It’s well known that people love one-stop shopping. That’s true in retail and that’s true in publishing. If the researcher can get all that information, curated personally for them in a clear, concise, and most importantly, highly accurate manner, they’ll almost certainly make that site their primary resource.

Some of the concepts have already been implemented in places, notably the BBC, whose unique Sport Ontology created for the 2012 Olympic games revealed just some of the potential of linked data. The idea was to personalize how the viewer watched the Olympics, understanding that enriched, relevant information delivered to the viewer in real time will drive traffic to the site.

There are even bigger ways linked data is being used, or potentially being used. The European Union is funding a project called Digitised Manuscripts to Europeana (DM2E), which aims to link all of Europe’s memory institutions to Europeana, the EU’s largest cultural heritage portal, to give free access to the stores of European history.

What if, in theory, a medical organization had access to linked data during flu season? That organization could pull information from not only medical records, but from, say, community records, school data, and other sources to try to predict when and where outbreaks might occur to minimize the damage. Certainly, there are issues with privacy and other hurdles that would need to be addressed, but even though that example is theoretical, the potential is massive.

Of course, proper implementation of linked data takes plenty of cooperation, so the jury is still out on how much or how soon sophisticated linked data usage could come about. The possibilities for academia, cultural awareness, and even retail look too enticing for it not to flourish. I, for one, am looking forward to a day where information I never dreamed of is right at my fingertips. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but it should be a fun ride.

Daryl Loomis
Access Innovations