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Re: [Linking-open-data] XULing or Grueling

From: Danny Ayers <danny.ayers@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 5 Oct 2007 18:00:33 +0100
Message-ID: <1f2ed5cd0710051000n48017362h40823af10cf68969@mail.gmail.com>
To: "Linking Open Data" <linking-open-data@simile.mit.edu>
Cc: "SW-forum Web" <semantic-web@w3.org>

On 05/10/2007, T.Heath <T.Heath@open.ac.uk> wrote:

> > BTW, this isn't meant as a nay-saying bit, but as a wanting
> > to derive useful lessons from past experience. The above links *do*
> > contain nay-saying, but I'm less interested in refuting that than
> > understanding what drove it and if there is any way to do better.

I blame XML!

Not entirely joking - there's a great quote, the attribution of which
I keep losing, to the effect that "what's new about the Semantic Web
isn't the 'Semantic' but the 'Web'". Ease back a few notches and what
was new about HTML wasn't that it was a simple document markup format,
but that it supported global linking. But XML's success has really
come from the doc side. Documents are clearly pretty significant when
it comes to the Web, and XML provides a means to expressing data in
document form relatively easily. But there's no inherent connection
between those two statements (though namespaces make a big
difference).

I reckon it's significant that a lot of other RDF crit (including some
of this XUL material) boils down to the fact that for a lot of
applications, graph-shaped data isn't needed and trees or lists are
more than adequate. Even in HTML it's the tree structure that's in
your face if anything, not the graph. Generalised graph serializations
are never going to be pretty, and add to this the need to URI-qualify
names and things start looking worse.

Kingsley mentioned RDF/XML - yup. Folks like Bill deHora have been
saying forever that RDF/XML is RDF's Achilles Heel, and I reckon
they're right up to a point. Given the choice between a universal
representation that's ugly & confusing and a single-purpose data
representation that fits the data and is easy to comprehend (because
we wrote it ourselves...), a typical developer will likely opt for the
latter.

It seems like it's too late to save RSS and Moz from their non-RDF
paths, but in each case I suspect the road ahead leads back to
RDF-style linkiness. RSS gets cleaned up to Atom, Atom gets passed
around using Web-friendly AtomPub, the link prevails. Moz gets SQLite
inside, but given that a browser is a tool for the Web, the link is
bound to prevail.

Coming from a data perspective, the value of linked data on the Web is
non-obvious, but I reckon once someone notices it, there's not turning
back. From a doc perspective, microformats solve some of the immediate
problems for certain classes of data, but more generally RDF (or
something very similar) is needed.

Now I'm rambling. I guess what I'm trying to say is that some of the
earlier RDF efforts tried to do too much too soon, and while the Big
Picture solution might have been pretty much on the nail, the
implementation details for the necessary components left a lot to be
desired. There's also the injection "from above" side Bijan mentioned
- I'm not sure how widespread this has been, but the perception seems
pretty common for the pushback when RDF is suggested to be as if it's
being imposed.

Certainly some of the traditional problems which can be solved
technically, have been solved technically - Turtle syntax is legible,
tools are making life easier, and GRDDL significantly reduces the
up-front commitment needed to adopt RDF (pretty handy socially &
politically too). Purpose-specific XML can be joined to the Web post
hoc.

No doubt a lot of mistakes have been made with evangelism (I'm as much
to blame as anyone) - as I think LeeF and/or EliasT were stressing a
year or so back, showing is much more effective than telling.

If the intuitions that a Web of Data is a good idea and the RDF
approach is a good one are right, then an indicator would be a
significant increase in developers coming to RDF "of their own
accord", without the need for outreach. But then again there's always
the possibility of reinvention, so I guess we can't just sit back and
watch the show...

Cheers,
Danny.

-- 

http://dannyayers.com
Received on Friday, 5 October 2007 17:00:43 GMT

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