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Re: A proposed theme for SW Activity phase 2: 'SW on the Web'

From: Dave Reynolds <der@hplb.hpl.hp.com>
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2003 15:37:29 +0000
Message-ID: <3E242EB9.A800B79F@hplb.hpl.hp.com>
To: Dan Brickley <danbri@w3.org>
CC: public-esw@w3.org

I mostly agree but with a slight note of caution.

I agree that it is best to pick one, or a small number of, focused application
classes. I agree that success on the "public web" would carry more impact than
many alternatives and should be the target if possible.

My caution is that the semantic web is primarily about machine readable data and
the public web is, currently, primarily about human readable data. This tends to
leave the role of the semantic web technology on the public web as mostly
concerned with metadata about otherwise human readable documents. Metadata is
certainly useful but (a) is often internal to a site and so benefits less from
standardization and (b) is subject to the bottleneck that people avoid providing
metadata if they possibly can. 

Now I *do* think there are roles for semantic web technologies in the public
web, otherwise we wouldn't have proposed semantic blogging and semantic portals
as our two demonstrator apps! However, I'm not sure we have a clear idea of the
most useful roles. So "yes" to targeting the public web, but work needs to done
to make that more specific before you turn it into work priorities.

[The use of "I" lots of times is meant to indicate that this is a personal

Dan Brickley wrote:
> Attached is a message I've just sent to the W3C Semantic Web Coordination Group
> list, where we are discussing priorities to propose for phase two of the
> Semantic Web Activity, beginning later in the spring.  The mail archives for SWCG are
> on the W3C Member website at http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Member/w3c-semweb-cg/
> so passwords are needed to track that discussion.
> Needless to say the attached view[1] is just my personal opinion. I'd be interested
> in the views of SWAD-Europe folk on how they see things, personal views or otherwise.
> More context: W3C SW page, http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/ and current
> Activity statement: http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/Activity#
> Dan
> [1] http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Member/w3c-semweb-cg/2003Jan/0032.html
>   --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Subject: A proposed theme for SW Activity phase 2: 'SW on the Web'
> Resent-Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2003 08:04:49 -0500 (EST)
> Resent-From: w3c-semweb-cg@w3.org
> Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2003 08:04:45 -0500
> From: Dan Brickley <danbri@w3.org>
> To: w3c-semweb-cg@w3.org
> CC: libby.miller@bristol.ac.uk
> Short version: phase two of W3C SW Activity should focus on getting RDF used in the
> public Web. Everything else (especially new technology creation) is secondary to that
> goal.
> Here's a longer account of my view for SW Activity phase two priorities.
> (Ontologists, note that I write 'RDF' in its broader sense, as a Framework, for which
> we now have an Ontology language; when I write 'RDF' pls read 'RDF/OWL' if you prefer).
> RDF and SW/Ontology tools are very general. They could be used for almost anything
> to do with modern information management. This broad applicability is what
> draws many of us to the technology, but also a source of risk: by being
> _usable_ for everything, we risk being _used_ for nothing. A reasurringly wide
> range of groups are exploring the possibilities of RDF, yet RDF is not tailored to
> any of their specific needs. We must be doing something right. But we shouldn't forget
> that more tailored solutions in each field could easily discourage RDF adoption.
> We can't please all the people, all the time.
> Something we might attempt in phase two is to focus our effects a bit on some
> particular fields for deploying RDF/OWL. I propose (this is so obvious as to
> barely need saying, perhaps) that we focus on the public Web in phase two of the Activity.
> By 'the public Web', I mean the work of Web masters, HTML authors, focussing on
> publically available sites who are currently mostly using HTML+CSS+jpeg/gif/png as their
> content formats, and perhaps dabbling with RSS, Flash, SVG and other fancy new stuff.
> I would like to see more RDF files on publically visible Web servers. RDF files that
> use a variety of RDF schemas and Ontologies, and that link to other RDF documents
> scattered around the Web. Once we have this, I'm confident the rest (intranets, domain
> specific tools, RDF in backend databases etc.) will follow. Right now, if you go
> looking in the public Web for folk using RDF, there really isn't much out there. A few
> large datadumps, a few keys into webservice lookups or screen scrapes, a fair amount
> of Dublin Core embedded (invalidly) in HTML or linked as separate files, a promising
> number of RSS files, some of which are in RSS 1.0 (but not really exploiting the RDF
> aspects of RSS), and a few hundred FOAF files. This is pretty modest situation to be
> in after 5+ years of RDF work. It isn't disasterous, but should be a cause for concern,
> and for focus as we design the next phase of the Activity.
> I would like us to go into phase two with some notion of success criteria: what would
> count as having succeeded? I'm suggesting that an almost quantitative approach
> may be applicable. If there are lots of RDF documents being used on ordinary Web sites,
> whether commercial, personal, Weblog, portal or academic, then something is going
> right. If we end phase two without this, then we likely should think about packing
> up and going home.
> Let's make phase two all about roll-out. Getting RDF, even simple, perhaps boring RDF,
> on the agendas, web sites and CVs of ordinary Web masters and content producers. That
> RDF will be all the more meaningful if it draws on vocabularies enriched with OWL, and
> we will have our work cut out for us helping folk do this effectively.
> If, in attempting to get RDF deployed in this way, we find the reason for resistence
> is that people need common APIs, more standard query languages, protocols, or rule
> languages, then yes, we could start work in those areas. But right now I don't believe
> for a second that RDF is relatively undeployed because we've not created enough
> accompanying Web standards. When RDF is used, eg. in RSS, or Dublin Core, it is often
> 'on faith', ie because people are anticipating some payback from using it where
> they could have adopted a pre-RDF or vanilla XML solution. Many people are still
> waiting to see what their RDF dabblings bought them.
> By focussing phase two on public Web deployment, I believe we will have a good
> chance of increasing the number of RDF documents and RDF tools and RDF-basd services
> that are visible to folk investigating the technology. Since RDF is all about
> data merging and network effects, it becomes a stronger platform for information
> management with every new shared document that uses it. This, if nothing else, should
> draw our attention towards priorities that encourage the publication of RDF/XML
> documents on the Web.
> If this account of a theme for phase two is at all persuasive, I think we could
> derrive some specific work items and priorities. But let's agree on what we're trying
> to achieve, first. Even if it something as almost-crass as 'lots of RDF documents
> on lots of Web sites'. Stating the obvious might be worthwhile, I suspect.
> cheers,
> Dan
> ps. i'll probably forward this to a public archived mailing list, for
> b/g in discussions in SWAD-Europe and the RDFIG.
Received on Tuesday, 14 January 2003 10:41:20 UTC

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