Unleashing the Power of Online Knowledge

The digital world is a network of information too complicated for Canadians to make sense of efficiently, believes SSHRC-funded researcher Susan Brown. She and her research team want to improve how people in general, and humanities scholars in particular, can filter and make sense of online data.

They plan to do so by making the web smarter.

“The world of linked data continues to grow,” said Brown, “and inserting into it the kind of nuance that humanities scholars require would be a big win in terms of how our future knowledge landscape works.”

Brown, Canada Research Chair in Collaborative Digital Scholarship at the University of Guelph, aims, with the help of other academics and regular internet users, to enhance the way people can find and use information online. She and her team will be using the “Semantic Web,” an extension of the World Wide Web that makes disclosing and understanding data much easier.

Brown has found that the best way to engage and encourage humanities scholars to participate in the Semantic Web is by ensuring that links that are meaningful to them, and the sources of links or annotations, are clear. The existing infrastructure of available technology wasn’t up to supporting Brown’s research, so she and her team developed their own.

“What is needed for this is essentially new infrastructure, and I'm very excited about two tools that we've produced towards this,” said Brown.

The first tool is an in-browser editor that lets scholars and users create and link various data in a way that is more refined, detailed and easier to use than what is currently possible on the web. The second is a program that is able to automatically read, identify and link text together, such as mentions of specific people, places, texts and organizations. Brown will be studying whether tools like these can enhance the quality and efficiency of online humanities scholarship by letting researchers connect their work, and use automatically linked data, to produce new forms of knowledge. Brown’s research will create new ways of generating knowledge and open up new sources of online content for Canadians, empowering both researchers and the public to use the web better.