Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One Per Cent

Should computers have

Jacob Aron, technology reporter
(Image: Daniel Grill/Getty)

Websites designed to be read by computers rather than humans could make it easier to share and use data says Stephen Wolfram, creator of "computational knowledge engine" Wolfram Alpha. Writing in a blog post, he suggests that ".data" should join the likes of .com, .org and .net as a new top-level domain (TLD) for organisations to share data in a standard from, creating a "data web" that would run in parallel with the ordinary web.
Under Wolfram's scheme, a website like would be accompanied by A human visitor to would just see a list of publicly available databases, but a computer would be able to access and interact with the data itself.
Of course, this kind of data sharing is already possible thanks to application programming interfaces (APIs), the software instructions published by many web services that allow programmers to combine data in creative ways, such as plotting Twitter updates on a Google map. Each organisation's API is different though, which can make them hard to use. Wolfram's proposal would put data in a standard location and format, making it easier to access.
For example, the various software behind price comparison websites currently use a variety of methods to get pricing data, whether that be a direct data feed from a particular merchant or simply visiting their website and scraping the necessary information, meaning that even a simple website redesign can break price comparisons. A .data TLD would mean price comparison software could simply visit, and other similar sites in order to find you the best deals.
One issue, raised by commenters on Wolfram's blog, is the lack of standardisation in TLDs themselves. Would refer to data stored on, or, which could be two completely separate organisations? How could you be sure that a .data domain was a legitimate website, and not just someone domain squatting? For that reason a subdomain like might prove more useful, rather than a new TLD, but Wolfram says .data would give the idea of sharing data more prominence and help spread the idea of a "data web".

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