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JSON Emergency Brake

From: Thomas Steiner <tomac@google.com>
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2011 17:25:25 +0200
Message-ID: <CALgRrLnvg7ybnqenMzvLfJgFvU7O6E-WiwUV=iDo5fBE0JSX1w@mail.gmail.com>
To: RDF WG <public-rdf-wg@w3.org>
Dear all,(*)

===
TL;DR: in my humble opinion, we should not continue with RDF/JSON, but
fully focus on JSON-LD even if it might take longer, as JSON-LD feels
like  JSON, whereas RDF/JSON feels like RDF in a JSON camouflage.
===

First and foremost, I want to apologize for whatever toes I step on
with this email. This email is in no way meant as an offense to the
individuals and companies involved, and I want to highlight that I'm
in the comfortable - but also unthankful - position of the (hopefully)
neutral observer, who enters the discussion when all the foundational
work has already been done. By this foundational work I mean RDF/JSON
[1] by Talis, and JSON-LD [2] by PaySwarm (forgive the simplification
of not mentioning persons, but companies). Thanks! It's excellent! I
could not have done it.

Now, in ISSUE-2 [3], we came to the conclusion to "(1) Incubate on
something like JSON-LD, (2) make a REC on something like Talis
RDF/JSON [...]". The more and more I look at both specs, the more and
more I feel like the resolution we agreed on for ISSUE-2 was wrong.
Following ACTION-38 [4] where Ivan had asked me to become a co-editor
on the to-be-REC'ed Talis RDF/JSON that I accepted, the proposed
workflow was Ian to commit a first draft of the document ([1]
effectively), that could then be discussed.

I have fully re-read both specs, but all honestly, the actual
eye-openers for me were a blog post [5] by Alexandre Passant and a
tweet by Christopher Gutteridge [6]. JSON-LD is(**) about objects,
simple default assumptions, elegancy, and developers in mind, whereas
RDF/JSON seems to be created with the premise to carry all the
expressiveness of RDF over to JSON, whatever the cost might be. Coming
more from a JavaScript camp than from an RDF camp myself, this feels
wrong. Of course I can see where RDF/JSON came from, and it completely
makes sense from that perspective. In the next paragraph, I explain
why.

Let me try to explain my main concerns with a bad metaphor (there's a
long tradition of those...). Web developers, JavaScript people, those
who speak JSON natively, are the cool kids. We are the detached youth
workers [7] who put on an adidas hoodie, read up on street slang on
the Internet, and try to behave just like the cool kids. We serve them
RDF/JSON (yes, yes, yo, homie), but we will probably fail. They see
through our plan, we risk to get laughed at. RDF/JSON just does not
feel natural to them, and this now, at a critical point, where
semantics are kind of back in the section "cool" of the news. Of
course I'm referring to schema.org(***). If we get a syntax REC out
now that does not feel native to the cool kids (even if we incubate on
something better [3]), we risk on losing traction. I have asked some
Google JavaScript people for advise, and they feel "at home" in
JSON-LD. It is the language they speak. I feel at home in JSON-LD.
Others do [8, 9], [10]. The Twitter feedback on the RDF/JSON draft
release [1] is relatively critical [11].

Now, those are tough claims and vague feelings, but I considered them
important enough to write this email. Apologies again to whomever toes
I have stepped on. My concrete proposition is: we refrain from working
further on the RDF/JSON REC, and fully focus on JSON-LD instead. I
would also like to back out of being an editor of [1], as I have not
done anything at all on that spec yet, and because I feel it is wrong
at this point in time, as hopefully explained in this email. While I
have done very, very limited amounts of work on JSON-LD (just
following the discussion mainly), I am happy to serve as an editor
thereof in fulfillment of what I agreed on in ACTION-38 [4], but it
feels like adorning myself with borrowed plumes, as the German saying
goes, and very much undeserved. Maybe we can discuss this during one
of the next RDF WG meetings, maybe even in a joint RDF - RDFa WG
meeting.

In the hope of not having hurt too many feelings, but rather started a
productive discussion instead.

Best,
Tom

[1] http://dvcs.w3.org/hg/rdf/raw-file/default/rdf-json/index.html
[2] http://json-ld.org/spec/latest/
[3] http://www.w3.org/2011/rdf-wg/track/issues/2
[4] http://www.w3.org/2011/rdf-wg/track/actions/38
[5] http://blog.seevl.net/2011/08/18/about-json-ld-and-content-negotiation/
[6] http://twitter.com/cgutteridge/status/105894098023620608
[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youth_work#Detached_youth_work
[8] http://twitter.com/orlin/status/104926442843934721
[9] http://twitter.com/orlin/status/104797459292753920 (note the
hashtag #unsemanticweblike)
[10] http://twitter.com/terraces/status/105066802740080640
[11] https://twitter.com/#!/search/realtime/rdf%20json%20-RT
(realtime, might have changed when you click the link)

(*) Full disclaimer: I have had this email be ACK'ed off-list by Ian
Davis, Manu Sporny, Guus Schreiber, and Ivan Herman before sending it
on-list now.

(**) When I write "is", "seems", etc., basically all verbs, all this
reflects my impression that I personally got. You can add an "IMHO"
suffix to each sentence. The spec authors will probably disagree with
some assumptions.

(***) I was not at all involved in any of the schema.org discussions,
plannings, the concept at all. All what I'm writing here on this
topic, I do it with my Google hat off.

--
Thomas Steiner, Research Scientist, Google Inc.
http://blog.tomayac.com, http://twitter.com/tomayac
Received on Tuesday, 23 August 2011 15:26:19 GMT

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