Tim Berners-Lee and Group of Boston Web Gurus Leading New MIT Class to Get Linked Data to Market

The usual sequence for high-tech entrepreneurs is to study, get a degree, get a job, then start a company and build a product. But a star-studded team of instructors for Linked Data Ventures, a graduate-level class premiering at MIT this fall, hopes to mix that up a bit. They envision the course as a direct launching pad for commercial efforts around linked data, a technology that World Wide Web inventor and course instructor Tim Berners-Lee is hoping will transform the way we glean meaning from the Web.

“It’s not about theory,” says K Krasnow Waterman, another member of the Linked Data Ventures teaching team. She says the class is designed to really force students to get practical—and commercial—in a hurry. “We are just really excited to see people get out on the forefront and lead the way.”

Linked data is the idea of assigning Web addresses to individual chunks of information, rather than just to documents, so that these chunks can interlink and lend meaning to one another. (Wade wrote about one example, True Engineering’s “truenumbers,” last summer.) It’s an offshoot of the effort to build the semantic Web, which Berners-Lee has also championed vigorously, where more data would be described with metadata that automated agents or other software can use to interpret or re-use the information more intelligently.

The linked-data ethic hasn’t quite caught on yet in the marketplace, which is why it makes a great subject for this style of class, says Waterman, who will be teaching alongside a team of instructors heavy on Internet, IT, and entrepreneurial experience. In addition to Waterman and Berners-Lee, who has emerged as a primary force behind the linked data movement (as he was for Internet standards such as HTML and HTTP), that includes Lalana Kagal of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, as well as Reed Sturtevant, and Katie Rae, both Microsoft Startup Labs veterans who have since co-founded business accelerator Project 11 Ventures.

“We seem to be at a really great tipping point,” Waterman says. “As the demand [for linked data] is rising in the marketplace, you’ll need some way that more people know what it is.”

The teaching team did a weeklong, condensed version of the program during MIT’s January Independent Activities Period (which offers ad hoc, sometimes off-the-cuff sessions while school is out for winter break) that resulted in seven teams producing prototypes rooted in linked data technology. One company came out with graphing software that culls numbers from any published data source to create graphs on the fly, Waterman says.

The instructors judged the finished products on their potential to play a part in the real world, and be sustainable as an independent business or open-source code. The champion team from the January session was … Next Page »

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