Posting from TED: the Raw or the Cooked?

Feb 4, 2009, 8:46 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

In the afternoon session of Day 1 at TED, Tim Berners-Lee, credited as inventor of the World Wide Web, made a simple request, one he’s trying to build a movement around: put your data on the web.  In Berners-Lee’s view, data held in the hands of the few is a lost opportunity.  It’s like the complaint leveled against the researchers who held on to the Dead Sea Scrolls for so long and wouldn’t let other researchers work with them or analyze them…only we’re talking about digitized data, not papyrus-based data.

Putting data on the web in a format that allows linking would open it up to all manner of exploration and analysis.  “When you connect data together, you get power,” he said. This spirit is what’s behind our support of Rapid Learning, which is being championed by Lynn Etheridge.  Rapid Learning proposes to link patient data bases from various provider organizations for research purposes.  It’s also embedded in our support for ARCHeS, the effort to build a user interface for the Archimedes model that would enable more people to harness its power to answer questions.

Berners-Lee pushed the idea of putting data on the web to its limits, leading the audience in a chant of “Raw Data Now, Raw Data Now.”  For some people, looking at some kinds of data, the idea of just posting it on the web is disconcerting.  Assuming one takes proper steps to assure privacy and confidentiality, should all data be open for mining and analysis, or are there limits to what should be shared in its raw form?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.