A solid foundation for data sharing and being in control over personal data

June 23, 2021 by Arjen Santema

I spoke to Pieter van Everdingen about linked and private data and how they are linked. Not only technically, but also in terms of the more techno-sociological approach. Pieter works on this interface domain when talking about PLDN and SOLID.

SEMANTiCS: You are already several years one of the community managers of the Dutch Linked data community (PLDN) and a regular participant in Semantics. How do you look forward to Semantics 2021, which is going to be a hybrid conference with both physical and virtual attention?

Pieter van Everdingen: Networking has always been a big part of our PLDN-activities and of events like SEMANTICS, next to knowledge sharing. This is how we can grow as a community, how we can find out what trends and developments are interesting to watch that we would like to incorporate in our PLDN-activities, what new promising proof of concepts, pilots and/or implementation projects are beginning or already active, where we would like to share their results at our events and where good opportunities are to co-operate in activities between multiple experts, organizations, domains, and countries. At the start of PLDN our focus was mostly on what was happening with Linked Data in the Netherlands, but in recent years our focus has broadened towards European and global activities with Linked Data. And events like SEMANTiCS opens doors for us to a wider audience.

SEMANTiCS: You are one of the track leaders of the local topic Solid. Can you tell me something more about this topic and what makes it so interesting just now?

Pieter van Everdingen: I first came across Solid via a presentation by Ruben Verborgh at FOSDEM in February 2019. I immediately felt a strong connection with Solid given its overall vision and ambition, its fundamental principles, and the technologies that are involved to implement this vision. Many of us are not happy with how the World Wide Web currently works, because much of our personal data is locked into systems and large technology platforms and cannot easily be shared with other persons and organizations. We are not in control over our own online personal data anymore and our personal data might be abused for the wrong reasons. That is why Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, started the Solid initiative to realize a much-needed course correction of the World Wide Web as it is today. And Linked Data plays a big role in Solid ‘under the hood’ in how you can best shape your data to make data sharing easier and be in control over your own personal data, using open web standards, which makes it possible to link all this data together via overlapping and interlinked knowledge graphs that make use of Linked Data. From an end-user perspective and for many organizations this a big step forward. You can get integral access to multiple data sources at different locations in a uniform way and your data becomes more re-usable via links to your data and to other data on the World Wide Web using URI’s (unique global identifiers to access Linked Data). Solid is a very positive development and it has huge potential. And I sincerely hope that it will become as successful as the World Wide Web and we can stay true to the original ambition and principles in a diverse world with often conflicting ambitions.

SEMANTiCS: Are there other specific topics that have your special interest?

Pieter van EverdingenI have a background in business rules from my study at the Technology University Eindhoven and I have worked in environments that made use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). With Linked Data we can also reason with data to derive new facts and insights. But AI is much hyped in the media at this moment (like it was already hyped a few times before in the last 30 years), which might lead to unrealistic expectations and unsuccessful projects. Good data and good modeling practices play a vital role in getting AI applications to work correctly. And Linked Data gives us a very good fundament to get this right since you can formally define your data and metadata in a semantically rich way, which helps humans and computers to better understand and use this data. So, with Linked Data standards like RDFS, OWL, and SHACL and with Linked Open Vocabularies we can shape a data landscape, where data becomes much more interoperable and can be re-used easier in many smart applications. We can further weave a web of data and stitch data together where needed, cross-organizational, cross-domain, and cross-border.

SEMANTiCS: I understand there is always some competence between the Belgians and the Dutch. I get the idea that in Solid the Belgians are going ahead. How do you deal with this?

Pieter van Everdingen: I’ve worked in many innovation projects and the question often was: Is this leading-edge or is this bleeding edge? Sometimes, it is just too early to take a first step and then you can better be in the second wave of innovation, where you can learn from the good and bad practices of the first wave. But in my current work, I don’t feel that much competence between the Dutch and the Belgians and in practice, we work more and more together on different topics and in different domains, like in the Solid for small heritage organizations pilot project, that PLDN initialized with Dutch Digital Heritage Organization (NDE) where we work together with the Belgium company Digita. The Belgians, that I know and that I work with, are very approachable and cooperative. What I like about them is, that they have high ambitions, that they have a can-do mentality, and that they are pragmatic. This results in a lot of interesting projects that we can learn from, and it can also lead to co-creation opportunities, where we can try to get to the next level in our Linked Data journey within the European context. But also in the Netherlands, we have had very good experiences with students that build demonstrators for us during an internship and with volunteers that work on data stories in e.g. the Cultural Heritage sector, next to our regular PLDN-activities.

I share with the Belgians an interest in good food and drinks and that is also a very good reason to meet in person again in Amsterdam in September to share this interest in the practice and also to find out where we can work together in the future on upcoming events, PoC’s, pilots and projects!