Semantic technology at the London Olympics

The BBC is using dynamic semantic publishing technologies to bring the Olympics to the world.

The Summer Olympics and Paralympics

The eyes of the world are on London.  The city is hosting the Summer Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games until September 2012.  (

Those who can't attend in person will follow the Games through the media. Although many will rely on their local TV stations and websites to track how their national athletes are doing, the UK's own BBC expects to have a huge presence during the Games. Knowing that its Olympic website will be inundated with Olympics-minded visitors, the BBC enlisted the help of fluid Operations to handle its content.

Dynamic semantic publishing

At the Semantic Technologies & Business 2012 conference, held in San Francisco, June 3-7, Jem Rayfield, Lead Technical Analyst, BBC Future Media, and Peter Haase, Lead Architect, fluid Operations, explained how they were using dynamic semantic publishing to enable the BBC to cover the Games in a visually interesting manner in almost real time.

As Rayfield put it, the BBC's challenge is "Far too many web pages for far too few journalists." The site has one page for each athlete, country, discipline, venue, and team. Keep in mind the 2012 Olympics includes 304 events, held in many different locations throughout the UK and 36 sports, both individual and teams. That adds up to at least 15,000 pages. Additionally the BBC is offering 27 live streams from individual sporting events. Page views are expected to be in the millions.

Linked data and triples

To handle the workflow, BBC journalists are using fluidOp's Information Workbench. The architecture of the Workbench relies on storing data as triples and using Linked Data to facilitate authoring and publishing. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) provides much of the background information, but as the Games progress, the system will be populated event by event. Quality checks are in place, starting with journalists viewing instance data. (Instance data describes specific data points, such as an Olympic athlete.) They can accept or reject the data. A subeditor then edits the instance data and a media manager both edits instance data and approves or rejects the previously edited instance data. The data architect/librarian, after editing both instance data and ontology data, publishes the content. The BBC is using an open ontology, which Ontotext helped develop - and which anyone can view here.

Rayfield is excited about using semantic technology to support data creation, maintenance, authoring, and publishing. The dynamic nature of the Information Workbench complements the fast moving nature of the Games. It also accommodates visual representations of the games, from an interactive map to graph views of results and standings. He's particularly excited that dynamic semantic publishing "will allow a handful of journalists to populate thousands of pages."

Marydee Ojala edits ONLINE: Exploring Technology & Resources for Information Professionals and is a frequent speaker at international conferences such as Internet Librarian International. 

Picture courtesy of spcbrass via Flickr.