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Tracking Data Provenance

The first community model capable of tracing the origins of computer-generated information is now available. University of Southampton School of Electronics and Computer Science professor and researcher Luc Moreau, says that the new model will lead to better degrees of trust online.

A new paper titled "The open provenance model core specification", written by Moreau and a community of international researchers, describes the Open Provenance Model (OPM), designed to represent the provenance of information.

“Provenance is a term used in diverse areas such as art, archaeology and palaeontology, which describes the history of an object since its creation,” said Moreau. “Its main focus is to establish that the object has not been forged or altered, and we have found that we can now do the same with computer-generated data. By understanding where data comes from, users can decide to trust data.”

In 2006, Professor Moreau launched the Provenance Challenge series, an international, multidisciplinary effort aimed at exchanging provenance between information systems.  It led to the design of the OPM, its actual use in the Provenance Challenge, and its revision according to an open-source-like community process.

The team has developed a model that traces the origins of information and allows these provenance details to be shared between systems. The new model has already had some take-up by academia and industry. The next step is for a provenance data model of this kind to receive a seal of approval from the standardization body.

“Provenance is well understood in the context of art or digital libraries, where it refers respectively to the documented history of an art object, or the documentation of processes in a digital object's life cycle,” said Moreau. “Interest in provenance in the e-science community is also growing, since it is perceived as a crucial component of workflow systems that can help scientists ensure reproducibility of their scientific analyses and processes.”

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