W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > semantic-web@w3.org > June 2009

Re: Putting Government Data online

From: John F. Sowa <sowa@bestweb.net>
Date: Thu, 25 Jun 2009 23:26:04 -0400
Message-ID: <4A443FCC.2070709@bestweb.net>
To: Azamat <abdoul@cytanet.com.cy>
CC: 'SW-forum' <semantic-web@w3.org>, "Manola, Frank" <fmanola@acm.org>, Danny Ayers <danny.ayers@gmail.com>
Frank and Azamat,

I have been the most enthusiastic proponent of a truly Semantic Web.
But along the way, the semantics got lost in an ungodly mess of
syntax.

FM> The Semantic Web still has a chance given the number of dedicated
 > and smart people working on it.
 >
 > The S*m*ntic W*b has *no* chance as long as those who believe in it
 > don't develop their own specs and software that demonstrate all the
 > purported advantage of doing it that way (whatever it is)

I very strongly agree.  And I wrote a note to ontolog forum that
explains how to restore the focus on semantics.  (Copy below)

In the process, my proposal cures the incredibly stupid blunder
that is killing the Semantic Web:  ignoring the fact that every
major web site is built around a relational database.

I used to call SQL the worst notation for logic ever conceived.
But I changed my mind after seeing RDF and OWL.

My proposal below solves that problem by integrating SQL, RDF,
and OWL on a truly equal footing.

I honestly believe that this is the only way to rescue the
original goals and hopes for the Semantic Web.

John Sowa
___________________________________________________________________

The real problem of "bringing semantics" into anything, whether a
database or the WWW or anything else, is to keep your focus on the
main goal:  representing meaning.  Everything else is a distraction.

 > Is "semantic foreign key" possible to facilitate current relational
 > database step into semantic database? In other words, if we can
 > build RDF or OWL based semantic foreign keys across different tables
 > and databases while providing those innovative foreign keys inference
 > and reasoning ability, it may help to bring the semantics into the
 > current DB.

That is not the problem.  People have been talking about integrating
semantics with relational databases for over 30 years.  The solution
was always very clear:  represent the meaning of the data in logic.

The major obstacle was also very clear:  people ignored meaning,
and devoted most of their efforts to adding more and more special
"features" to SQL to address one or another low-level syntactic
notation to support somebody's pet implementation.

The major issues in creating the Semantic Web were also very clear:
express meaning in logic.  But instead of focusing on the logic,
they started to address all kinds of special cases, such as using
triples instead of n-tuples or forcing everything into some kind
of XML syntax.

If you step back and look at the logic, all the problems disappear:

  1. First order logic hasn't changed in the past 130 years, and
     the syntax can be defined in half a page.

  2. The mapping of relational databases to and from FOL is obvious.

  3. The mapping of Description Logics to FOL is obvious.

  4. You can develop very clean, very simple mappings of the above
     three to one another.

  5. The details of XML-based notations or table-based SQL notations
     are of minor importance.  Those should *never* be allowed to
     have the slightest influence on #1, #2, and #3 above.

That is all very clean and very simple.  But we still have to deal
with the problem of current systems such as SQL, RDF, and OWL.

The answer is also simple:  SQL, RDF, and OWL will be declared
"legacy systems".  In the terminology that IBM used, they will be
called "functionally stabilized".  That means no new features or
additions or further changes will be made to them.  They will be
supported forever, but not as the basis for future development.

All future development will focus on the very simple principles of
#1, #2, and #3 above and with further purely *logical* extensions,
not rinky-dink syntactic features of the kind that burden SQL,
RDF, OWL, and all other horrible syntaxes that have outlived
their usefulness.

That is the answer.  It's extremely simple, and it provides
*equal* support for both the current relational DBs and
the current Semantic Web.  It is a solid and secure foundation
for the future.
Received on Friday, 26 June 2009 03:37:04 UTC

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