5-Star Linked Data for Tax, Legal & Regulatory Publishers

John Barker
Written by John Barker
on November 29, 2011

Private publishers such as Wolters Kluwer have long been an essential part of the tax, legal & regulatory content value chain. Traditionally they have aggregated, organized, linked, and explained primary and secondary sources of law so that professional practitioners — lawyers and accountants — can help their clients better predict the consequences of their decisions. Print-based aggregation in looseleafs and treatises over time transformed into digital aggregation in full-text searchable databases organized by document type and/or practice area. Digital aggregation is challenging because government sources of law, including legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government, make their data available in different formats according to their own schedules. If these different government entities could make their data available using uniform standards, private publishers would be able to aggregate primary sources of law more quickly. Of course, that would mean that explanations, linking, and topical organization could occur more quickly. This is how I view the promise of 5-star linked data for tax, legal & regulatory publishers.

I regularly invite external speakers to give webinars to large audiences at Wolters Kluwer. We at Wolters Kluwer were honored with webinars given by two individuals who are at the heart of this worldwide transformation in how governments publish their data. They are 3 Round Stones, Inc.’s CEO Bernadette Hyland & CTO David Wood. Bernadette is co-chair of the W3C Government Linked Data Working Group and David is co-chair of the W3C RDF Working Group. A collection of their presentations, including those given to us at Wolters Kluwer, are publicly available (click here and here).

I see clearly how private publishers can move higher up the value chain if governments publish primary sources of law according to the principles of 5-star linked data. So what exactly is 5-star linked data? I’ll quote the definition from one of Bernadette’s posts entitled, A New Era of Transparency

  • Use URIs to identify things so that people can point to your data;
  • Use HTTP URIs so people can look up that data;
  • Provide useful information using the RDF family of standards (RDF*, SPARQL); and
  • Link your data to other data on the Web to provide context.

Publishers and their professional customers would realize the following benefits from government investment in applying linked data principles to primary sources of law:

  • publishers could aggregate, link, topically organize, update, and explain primary sources of law more quickly, using more automation;
  • publishers could more easily link primary sources and explanations with significant workflow steps in software applications (see New Workflows in Hybrid Content-Software Solutions for Professionals for more on this industry trend); and
  • publishers could more quickly create algorithms that help customers gain real-time insights from primary tax, legal & regulatory sources.

There are challenges to this vision of 5-star linked data from open governments. Will governments maintain archives of primary sources of law in perpetuity? Will governments maintain funding for linked data? Will governments keep their data open? The answers to these questions will emerge over time. David and Bernadette’s work with the W3C hopefully will help governments worldwide address all of these questions in ways that benefit the content value chain for professional practitioners.

Thank you David and Bernadette for sharing your insights with Wolters Kluwer and all of your good work at the W3C.

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