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RE: Definition of "Resource"

From: Grant Robertson <grantsr@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, 28 May 2012 08:19:08 -0700
To: "'Richard Cyganiak'" <richard@cyganiak.de>
Cc: <public-rdf-comments@w3.org>
Message-ID: <B55F236BC34E4308A3BC6833E6FD2BC0@grantdesk>

As I have stated - and obviously proven - many times, I am definitely NOT an
expert in web technologies. I came to this via my own path and am now trying
to learn RDFa well enough to write some documentation for Manu and Ivan that
will help regular web designers to understand and use RDFa. One of the
things that makes that task more difficult for me is that a lot of people
involved with RDF and RDFa seems to be working really hard to redefine a lot
of basic terms or make up new terms for things that seemed pretty clear to
me in the first place. In almost every case, those new definitions or terms
are less clear than the original. They tend to be more esoteric or make a
big deal of a distinction that can be easily handled by either depending on
the context in which they are used or by adding an adjective when necessary.

My comment about jingoism was not meant to insult any one individual's
intentions. It was meant as a red flag or warning of how all this
redefinition of perfectly good terms appears from outside the group. That
said, the tendency toward creating exclusivity through jargon is always
present in ANY group. Try listening to Snoop Dog for a few minutes. However,
a web standards group, by definition, has the opposite goal. While
mathematical correctness is extremely important, the terms used to define
and describe said mathematical correctness need to be accessible and not
produce too much cognitive load just trying to read any one sentence about
said standard. 

Regular people and regular web designers already have quite a lot of new
concepts and terms to learn when they want to start using RDF and RDFa. Some
of these new terms are quite necessary. However, I think that when a group
starts working on redefining terms that are already well established then
that group is getting perilously close to "jumping the shark," so to speak.
In other words, alienating potential users by adding more complexity and
cognitive load than many of those potential users will feel is necessary. I
feel that any redefinition of the term "resource" or creating a new term to
mean "resource" falls under that category. 

As a technical writer, when writing about this topic I would simply state
what "resource" means within the context of what I am currently writing.
Then I would simply use the word "resource" all by itself. Even though I
have essentially redefined the word "resource," that redefinition is well
within the expected type of redefinition for that word. My definition is
merely a narrowing of the existing definition based upon how things within
that universe of everything are either accessed or referred to. That is an
accepted form of redefinition for the word "resource" and does not add too
much cognitive load. If I were writing or speaking in a broader context that
may include other kinds of "resources" then I would add an adjective before
the word "resource" or say something like "in the context of web
technologies" after it. The adjective used would depend upon what other
contexts were being discussed. If I were disucssing HTML and RDF (and there
was some subtle but important distinction in the definition of "resource"
within the context of what I was writing) then I would likely use "HTML
resource" and "RDF resource."  Within the context of that writing, people
would know exactly what I meant. If, for some bizarre reason, I were
discussing both energy resources and the "resources" more commonly discussed
by this group (perhaps to illustrate the flexibility of a word like
"resource"), then I would likely use the phrases "energy resource" and "web
resource," having adequately defined each earlier in the writing. 

I know all this seems a little too "loosey goosey" for some people who have
spent a lot of time in the computer science field or designing web
standards. There is a strong desire to find a single word or phrase that
will always mean the exact same thing in any context. A word or phrase that
is not used anywhere else. Something that someone can google and always get
the exact right definition. Unfortunately, all the current words are taken.
And none of the "synonyms" for "resource" are as wonderfully all-inclusive
as "resource," which allows for it to include the universe of everything.
This is why phrases that include "source" or "entity" cannot work. These
words have built into them more narrow definitions that do not easily allow
for them to include the universe of everything. "Source" means where
something came from, not the thing itself. And "entity" refers to any
"thing" but not any concept or relationship. 

So, unless you make up some entirely new word (such as "wresource" which is
a concatenation of "web" and "resource") or start using XML prefix notation
in regular writing (such as rdf:resource) and somehow get everyone in the
world to start using that same notation, then you are kind of stuck with
just plain old "resource." And I don't think that is such a bad thing. 


P.S. Now that I think of it, "wresource" is just silly enough that it may
catch on amongst web designers. It is not as catchy as "phishing" but you
never know. 

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Richard Cyganiak [mailto:richard@cyganiak.de] 
> Sent: Monday, May 28, 2012 3:38 AM
> To: grantsr@gmail.com
> Cc: public-rdf-comments@w3.org
> Subject: Re: Definition of "Resource"
> Hi Grant,
> On 26 May 2012, at 20:35, Grant Robertson wrote:
> > Similarly, within the context of web technologies - as 
> Richard Cyganiak reminded us[1] - the word "resource" is 
> already defined as the universe of everything. I do have to 
> disagree with Richard, in that I believe this is, in fact, a 
> "precise" definition. Remember, "precise" does not mean 
> "infinitessimally narrow" or "exclusive." It merely means 
> "completely unambiguous." And the definitions offered by 
> Richard from various sources seem to rather unambiguously 
> indicate that the definition of "resource" - within the 
> context of web technologies - does, indeed, mean EVERYTHING.
> The RFC2616 definition notably disagrees with that. It's the 
> very first definition I quoted in [1].
> The other definitions more or less agree that anything can be 
> a resource, but then go on to make quite different additional 
> assertions about resources and their role in web architecture.
> > A text literal is a sequence of bytes within a computer's 
> memory or on a storage device that also has additional 
> metadata associated with it indicating that it is, in fact, a 
> text literal.
> Well, no. In general, a text literal is a sequence of Unicode 
> code points.
> In the specific case of RDF, a literal is a pair of a 
> sequence of Unicode code points and a datatype IRI.
> Trying to fold concerns such as computer memory, storage 
> devices, or the presence of metadata into that definition 
> just confuses things. For example, a text literal can be 
> wirelessly sent from one system to another, or a person can 
> memorize it and reproduce it in a different system. In 
> today's computing world, the stuff we're talking about here 
> is so many layers of abstraction removed from any actual 
> continuous sequence of computer memory addresses or storage 
> devices that talking about them is simply not useful. You 
> could just as well insist that it's not a text literal unless 
> there are electric charges in a semiconductor.
> (And: Ignorance of the difference between bytes and 
> characters are the reason why we still can't have reliable 
> exchange of characters outside of US-ASCII in the 21st century.)
> At any rate, RDF is fully Unicode aware and doesn't talk 
> about any of that computer memory stuff in its definition of 
> literals, so none of this is relevant here.
> > So, putting "Cesar" between two tags in an XML file makes 
> it a text literal. Speaking it or writing it down does not count.
> Well, fine, assuming we're not spelling out the code points.
> > Think of it this way. You can have a universe of 
> everything. Now you can look at all that everything with your 
> eyeballs. Or you can listen to it with your ears. Or you can 
> write down names for all those things on pieces of paper. Or 
> you can create (or cause to be created) sequences of bytes 
> within the memory of a computer or on a storage device, said 
> sequences conforming to one of two specifications and 
> associated with some form of metadata indicating in some way 
> that these sequences do in fact meet said specifications and 
> are intended to be used to refer to things in the universe of 
> everything. It is still the same universe of everything, you 
> are just using a different means to access or refer to it.
> Yes, this is an excellent way of putting it (glossing over 
> the confusion of bytes and characters and the irrelevant 
> appeal to computer memory and storage devices).
> In RDF, literals and IRIs are two different ways of referring 
> to members of the same set of resources, the set of everything.
> Furthermore, IRIs can refer to resources in at least two 
> different ways. First, by means of RESTful interaction with 
> the resource's state via a protocol such as HTTP. Second, by 
> means of denotation; this involves a claim, in human- or 
> machine-readable form, that a given IRI refers to a 
> particular thing. It is good practice to make sure that these 
> two different means of reference are well-aligned, but 
> there's nothing in the core specs (URI, IRI, RDF, HTTP) that 
> enforces this, and in fact it is common that they do not 
> align in practce.
> > Some have proposed using the phrase "RDF source." However, 
> I think this is a misnomer and a mistake. The word "source" 
> is commonly defined as "where something comes from." So in 
> the context of web technologies, "RDF source" would mean 
> "where said RDF data came from" and would definitely NOT be 
> commonly interpreted to mean the same thing as what the word 
> "resource" is already defined to mean within the context of 
> web technologies. To start using a different phrase which 
> actually is less accurate would be counterproductive.
> +1 about "RDF source" being a poor term.
> > So, this entire debate as to whether to use the word 
> "resource" to refer to a sequence of bytes which matches the 
> specifications to be either an IRI or a text literal, is 
> rather moot. The word is clearly and precisely defined within 
> the context of web technologies.
> See the HTTP 1.1 spec for a notable counter-example.
> > When speaking or writing about RDF or RDF technologies, one 
> is definitely well within the context of web technologies. 
> And, within the more narrow context of RDF or RDF 
> technologies, the word "resource" does NOT have an even more 
> narrow definition.
> It shouldn't, I agree.
> > So, why would one feel any need to create yet another new 
> word or phrase to mean something which we already have a 
> perfectly good word for? A word that is commonly accepted by 
> all to have a flexible definition based upon the context in 
> which it is used?
> Just like you may want to use the phrases "renewable energy" 
> or "alternative energy" to refer to the energy from 
> particular sources, one way want to have phrases that allow 
> talking about resources while distinguishing the means of 
> reference - e.g., RESTful interaction or denotation - that is 
> being used.
> Hence my two separate proposals:
> 1. "resource" (= denotation) and "stateful resource" (= 
> RESTful interaction) 2. "entity" (= denotation) and 
> "resource" (= RESTful interaction)
> Neither of the proposals have fared too well, which may be 
> due to what you pointed out above, that it's about means of 
> access/reference rather than the characteristics of the 
> things referred to.
> > The only reason I can think of is exclusivity. Not within 
> your terms, but within your social group. A common malady in 
> academic circles is to create new words or phrases (or to 
> completely redefine existing words or phrases outside of the 
> pattern which other people would expect) for what some claim 
> to be more clarity but which only serves to introduce less 
> clarity and a further separation between said group and the 
> rest of the human population. Jargon becomes a form of 
> jingoism. It prevents others from joining your group. It 
> makes members of the group feel they have some measure of 
> status because they are familiar with the twisted jargon 
> while others are frustrated with the jargon and thus left out 
> of the group.
> Four points here.
> 1. I do agree that frequent reminders to keep it simple and 
> avoid overcomplication are appropriate.
> 2. This thread is just another manifestation of the 
> httpRange-14 debate. This has been ongoing for around a 
> decade. Its root is that the meaning of "resource" has 
> somewhat haphazardly evolved from a narrow meaning of 
> "computing resource" to the current meaning of "everything", 
> and that different technologies in the web stack have forked 
> off at different stages in that progression, and thus the 
> different communities that have grown up around these 
> technologies have ended up with quite different understanding 
> of "resources" and with barely compatible mental models. What 
> we see here in this thread is yet another attempt at making 
> sense of these different terminologies and mental models, 
> with an eye towards finding common ground and aligning them. 
> Above, you seem to be characterizing that as a wilful attempt 
> at excluding others from the community and erecting barriers 
> to communication. I don't think this is a helpful or 
> appropriate comment.
> 3. This is a working group producing technical specifications 
> within a standards body. Terminological precision is 
> appropriate and required, and a certain amount of jargon is 
> to be expected.
> 4. If the RDF specifications needlessly introduce new terms 
> where existing ones would do, or redefine existing words or 
> phrases in a way that's fundamentally different from what 
> other people would expect, then by all means tell us about it 
> and we'll see if we can get rid of it. (To the extent it's 
> possible without breaking backwards compatibility too much.)
> >  I have a very important question for the RDF working 
> group: Is this what you want?
> I want precise and well-defined terminology that is 
> well-aligned throughout the web technology stack. This 
> terminology should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. 
> If this means people have to learn some jargon if they don't 
> want to feel left out, I'm ok with that.
> All the best,
> Richard
> > [1] 
> > http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-rdf-wg/2012May/0578.html
Received on Monday, 28 May 2012 15:19:42 UTC

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