On a news organization’s list of priorities, publishing articles as “linked data” probably comes slightly above remembering to turn the computer monitors off in the evening, and slightly below getting a new coffee machine.

It shouldn’t, and I’ll share 10 reasons why.

Before I do, I should briefly explain what I mean by “linked data.” Linked data is a way of publishing information so that it can easily — and automatically — be linked to other, similar data on the web. For example, if I refer to “Paris” in a news article, it’s not immediately apparent to search engines whether that is Paris, France or Paris, Texas, or Paris Hilton or another Paris entirely. If published in linked data, Paris would be linked to another reference point that would make clear which one it referred to (e.g. the entry for Paris, France on dbpedia, the structured data version of Wikipedia).

Until a short while ago, I was reasonably clueless as to both the meaning and the value of linked data. I’m still far from an expert, but enough people who are far smarter than me have convinced me that it’s worth trying. This was especially the case a couple of months back, at a News Linked Data Summit that we — the Media Standards Trust — organized with the BBC. You can read about it in a previous blog post.

10 Reasons

So, here are 10 reasons why news organizations should bump linked data up their priority list:

  1. Linked data can boost SEO (search engine optimization).
    People who tell you they can boost your SEO usually sound like witch doctors, telling you to tag all sorts of hocus pocus that doesn’t make rational sense or just seems like cynical populism. But at its simplest, SEO works through links. The more something is linked to, the higher it will rank in search results. So publishing content as linked data should, quite naturally, increase its SEO. A great example of this is the BBC’s natural history output. Type “Lion” into Google and, chances are, a BBC linked data page will come in those results. This never used to happen until the BBC started tagging their natural history content as linked data.
  2. Linked data allows others to link to your site more easily.
    The world wide web is, more and more, powered by algorithms; the Google search algorithm is perhaps the most obvious. But most sites now take advantage of some mechanized intelligence. “If you liked reading this, you might enjoy this…” is one example. Algorithms are intelligent — but not that intelligent. They have trouble telling the difference between, for example, Martin Moore (me), Martin Moore (kitchens), and Daniel Martin Moore (the Kentucky singer/songwriter). But use linked data and they can tell the difference. And once they can, sites like the BBC can link externally much more easily and intelligently.
  3. It helps you build services based on your content.
    It’s difficult to get people to pay for news online, so news organizations will need to build services based on their news — and other content — that people will pay for. You could, for example, provide a service that enabled people to compare schools in different areas, based on inspection reports, league tables, news reports, and parents’ stories. Creating services to do this is lots and lots easier if content is made machine-readable through linked data.
  4. It enables other people to build services based on your content that you could profit from.
    Other people often have ideas you haven’t thought of. Other people might also have the space and time to experiment. Give them the opportunity to build stuff through linked data and they might come up with killer apps that make you money. iPhone apps anyone?
  5. It allows you to link direct to source.
    You’re a news organization. Your brand is based partly on how much people trust the stuff you publish. Publishing in linked data enables you to link directly back to the report/research or statistics on which it was based — especially if that source is itself linked data (such as this). That way, if you cite a crime statistic, say, you can link it directly back to the original source.
  6. It helps journalists with their work.
    As a news organization publishes more of its news content in linked data, it can start providing its journalists with more helpful information to inform the articles they’re writing. Existing linked data can also provide suggestions as to what else to link to.
  7. It throws bait over the pay wall.
    Once content is behind a pay wall it becomes invisible unless you pay. (That’s sort of the point.) This is the same for Joe Public as for a search engine. But how are you, Joe Public, supposed to work out whether you want to pay for something if it’s invisible? Publish in linked data and there will be enough visible bits of information to help people decide if they want to pay for it. (This will probably be less of a deal with big search engines like Google, but more relevant to other search engines and third party services. Mind you, one of these bit players will, most likely, be the next Google or Facebook.)
  8. It makes data associated with your content dynamic.
    There is an ever growing mountain of information on the Net that never gets updated. There are pages devoted to soccer teams whose last score was added in 2006. Or topic pages about political issues that haven’t seen a new story in months. But if those pages were filled with linked data, and linked to others that were too, they’d be automatically updated — rising from the dead like Frankenstein without you having to do diddly squat.
  9. You could become a “canonical reference point.”
    “What the heck is a canonical reference point,” I hear you ask. Well, it’s a little like a virtual Grand Central Station. It’s a junction point for linked data; a hub that hundreds or even thousands of other sites link to as a way of helping to define their references. Examples of such hubs include: musicbrainz.org for music and musicians, data.gov.uk for U.K. government stuff, dbpedia.org for almost anything. If you’re a news organization, why wouldn’t you want to be a hub?
  10. It raises the bar for all.
    A web of linked data is a more intelligent web. A more mature and less superficial web. Not quite a semantic web, but getting there.

Of course, some of these benefits will come disproportionately to first movers (as with the BBC’s natural history pages). Which is exactly why news organizations, who have previously been pretty slow when it comes to web innovation, need to get their skates on.

Additional Reading on Linked Data:

These articles are worth reading:

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