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Is it the syntax? (was Re: RDF: XULing or Grueling)

From: Bijan Parsia <bparsia@cs.man.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2007 01:27:35 +0100
Message-Id: <D5149B7E-61B7-448B-932D-52B404F3F920@cs.man.ac.uk>
Cc: 'Semantic Web' <semantic-web@w3.org>
To: Harry Halpin <hhalpin@ibiblio.org>

On Oct 6, 2007, at 12:01 PM, Harry Halpin wrote:

> Bijan Parsia wrote:
>>
>> http://www.jerf.org/resources/xblinjs/whyNotMozilla/ 
>> notXulTemplates.html
>> http://krijnhoetmer.nl/irc-logs/whatwg/20071004#%23l-543
[snipped the RSS 1.0; will address that with the other posts]
>> In my experience, several communities resented the injection of RDF
>> "from above" (certainly that was a strong feeling in the WSDL group).
>> Exposure made them more angry about it rather than less. This is  
>> not a
>> happy thing. When I compare with things like JSON (which is popular)
>> or YAML (which I think isn't nearly as popular...don't have anything
>> more than my impression), they don't seem to arose the same sort of
>> hostility, nor are they generally *imposed*. (Though interesting, in
>> that same chat log there is a bit of discussion about why Hixie
>> defined his own syntax for a manifest file instead of using JSON or
>> even XML.)
> Again, anything a  desperate C hacker can't write a parser for quickly
> is going to be a problem, and about 99 percent of people I know  
> dislike
> RDF (and the SemWeb in general) primarily because they find the RDF/ 
> XML
> syntax user-hostile, and secondly because they view it as the use of
> taxonomies to organize data.
[snip]

While I welcome a general discussion of marketing issues, again this  
doesn't seem to be on point at all. I mean, if it all were as simple  
as a syntax twiddle, I'm sure we'd all be happy. But I don't believe  
*anyone* *really* believes that. If we did, we'd be *INSANE* not to  
have fixed this by now.

> Of course, RDF/XML came out the way it did
> for good reason, and taxonomies are damn useful in some applications.
> But still, I think better evangelism about RDF for data merger and
> rubber-stamping the Turtle/N3 syntax would neatly solve 99 percent of
> these complaints.
[snip]

I'll save a discussion of the weaknesses of RDF as a data merger  
solution (it's not a silver bullet; I had an interesting conversation  
with a CTO of a data merger consulting firm who uses XML, XSLT, and a  
home grown set of business concepts; his team goes in, dumps the  
relational db to xml; xslts it into the business concepts (for  
alignment), then xslts it out again into the new relational thingy;  
from 2 months or 2 years to 2 weeks; he *tried* doing the same thing  
with RDF and found it a mess; now, clearly something went wrong, but  
I hope this anecdote shows that it's possible to go wrong, perhaps  
very wrong, using RDF for data merging; it's also possible to go  
right with other technology for data merging; so, we run the risk  
with *blind* evangelism of setting up future big failures) for  
another day. But again, if we all believe that the syntax is 99  
percent (or any significant fraction, say more than 10%) of the  
problem then we as a community are just broken.

You don't need a WG to fix such a fundamental problem that would have  
such huge benefits.

Finally, It's clear that you didn't read the things I pointed to.  
Neither one of those even MENTIONS the syntax. Not even in passing.  
They seem mostly concerned with implementation problems and with  
expressivity. My issues with using RDF as the uber syntax (or the  
uber abstract syntax) have *nothing* to do with RDF/XML and  
everything to do with the fact that it's very bad at representing  
syntax. (Note, I also HUGELY discourage people from using OWL as a  
grammar for syntax. That's not what it's for. Perhaps if we had  
integrity like constraints it would be better, but even then it's  
going to such in a lot of ways compared to something that has a  
better connection to concrete syntax issues.)

So, perhaps 99% of the people you encounter really are only hung up  
on the syntax. I don't know. Maybe those people are representative of  
the world. I don't know that, either. It seems probable, however,  
that the problems that Mozilla faced --- or RSS 1.0 faced --- have  
little to do with RDF/XML. Or, at least, I need some sort of evidence  
before I'd accept that. I'm trying to *reflect* on past evangelism  
gone wrong to learn what works and what doesn't. Indeed, we should  
want to know where RDF isn't the right choice so we don't look like  
fools for proposing it in the wrong circumstances.

[snip]

Cheers,
Bijan.
Received on Monday, 8 October 2007 00:27:57 GMT

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