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Re: "meaningless terms" verbage for Primer

From: Patrick Stickler <patrick.stickler@nokia.com>
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2002 15:25:47 +0200
Message-ID: <018801c2a118$d12b0620$b29316ac@NOE.Nokia.com>
To: "ext Frank Manola" <fmanola@mitre.org>
Cc: "w3c-rdfcore-wg" <w3c-rdfcore-wg@w3.org>

[Patrick Stickler, Nokia/Finland, (+358 40) 801 9690, patrick.stickler@nokia.com]

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "ext Frank Manola" <fmanola@mitre.org>
To: "Patrick Stickler" <patrick.stickler@nokia.com>
Cc: "w3c-rdfcore-wg" <w3c-rdfcore-wg@w3.org>
Sent: 11 December, 2002 15:19
Subject: Re: "meaningless terms" verbage for Primer

> Patrick Stickler wrote:
> > 
> snip
> > 
> > Either we should state explicitly that those terms have no
> > real meaning, or we should not have any examples whatsoever
> > in the Primer using them, which could lead to a repeat of
> > history.
> > 
> snip
> Patrick--
> Here's my problem:
> ...
> All these terms are discussed in the Primer (in some cases extensively), 
> together with examples of their use.  In all the use cases, there are 
> caveats expressed that describe these as "intended meanings", 

But intended by whom? If they are intended by the RDF Core WG, then
they should be normative. If they are intended by someone else, why
should we say anything about them or even include the terms in the
RDF vocabulary.

The purpose of RDF, and the vocabulary defined by RDF, is to facilitate
consistent and unambiguous interpretation across arbirrary disparate 

The terms in question do not serve that purpose but are actually in
direct conflict with that ultimate goal.

Either they have meaning that users can rely on or they don't. If
users cannot rely on those terms having consistent meaning -- if we
are not saying even that those terms SHOULD have such meaning, if
it's just a MAY (and I believe that's all it is) then we are doing
a disservice to users by not making that clear, as most users will
presume SHOULD if not MUST and will be confused when that is not
reflected by reality.

> and which 
> attempt to point out limitations on our ability to actually define them 
> (you might want to review and comment on the adequacy of these caveats). 
>   My concern is the clarity of saying that these terms were undefined 
> and ambiguous, and *remain undefined* (saying they "remain undefined in 
> the present RDF MT" doesn't help;  the assumed readers won't necessarily 
> know what the significance of that is vs. what's said in the Primer), 
> and then going ahead with all the discussion and examples of the same 
> terms.  What is someone to make of that?  In other words, I don't see 
> the consistency of providing this caveat (at least as presently worded) 
> *together with* all the existing discussion.  I attempted to word the 
> current set of caveats to convey what I believe is the basis of what 
> you're concerned about, and to convey what I think we actually have in 
> mind in continuing to include those terms.  Simply adding the wording 
> you've suggested it seems to me is going to raise additional questions, 
> requiring additional words to answer.

Again, I have no problem with the wording being changed. I was tasked to
propose some verbage and I gave it my best shot. Obviously it is lacking
in various ways. Fair enough. I encourage recommendations from the WG
that will help make it more optimal and fit in with the present content
of the Primer.

Yes, there are various caveats in the Primer about these terms, but
they are not IMO sufficiently clear and explicit about the key point
that there are no requirements nor guaruntees as to how these terms
might be interpreted by applications.

> > 
> > I don't intend to debate this issue further. Rather, I put it to
> > those who seem to have their undies all in a wad about making
> > such an explicit statement about these "meaningless terms" to
> > indicate what *harm* may come of being clear about them.
> > 
> snip
> I wasn't so much asking for debate, as for wording I can use in the 
> Primer that actually clarifies things.  I don't see any harm in being 
> clear about these terms but, as I note above, I think it will be unclear 
> to include both the kind of wording you seem to be suggesting, *and* 
> continuing to have all the discussion of the terms, and the examples, in 
> the Primer, since the latter seem to convey the idea that the terms, in 
> fact, *do* have meaning, although it's not a meaning conveyed by formal 
> semantics.  

Precisely. I think that the Primer should reflect, in minimally technical
and accessible terms the normative content of the other documents, and
the examples and verbage for these terms does in fact suggest that RDF
is asserting meaning for these terms which it is not.

> I think we have to be clear what we mean here;  do we mean 
> some of these terms to be used in certain ways, even when we can't 
> totally define all those ways, or what?

Perhaps what is needed is for the Primer to include only the short
comment about these terms, something along the lines of what I
proposed but worded far better than I was capable of doing, and no further 
examples or discussion of them in the Primer at all, and then produce a
separate document, e.g. a Note, that presents historical and/or suggestive 
usage for these terms. 

The more I think about this issue, the more it seems that we have 
really dropped the ball in keeping them in the vocabulary at all. I mean 
kriminy, is there really any point to defining a term without saying what 
it means and thus constraining its use to that interpretation?! Ugh... If
M&S blew it by failing to be sufficiently clear and those terms no longer 
have a reliable consistent interpretation because different folks have
assumed different interpretations, then let's say so and deprecate 
them -- or choose the "best" meaning and say so normatively, even if some 
folks will have to fix their usage...

> > I would ask the chair to facilitate positive closure of this issue,
> > including inviting those opposed to justify their opposition to
> > such a statement in the Primer and/or to suggest alternative 
> > wording which achieves the intended purpose.
> > 
> I agree.  In particular, I'd like suggestions for wording that should be 
> added, together with specific suggestions for things that should be 
> deleted, which will make the Primer appear to be consistent in what it 
> says about these terms (in particular, says what we mean about why the 
> terms are still there;  ignoring this latter point is not, IMO, a 
> responsible option).


Received on Wednesday, 11 December 2002 08:25:49 UTC

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