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Re: A discussion: Is semantic web an old fashioned idea? Is it bubble, unworthy or an interesting research area - Post your comments

From: Dan Brickley <danbri@w3.org>
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004 07:36:37 -0400
To: Danny Ayers <danny666@virgilio.it>
Cc: www-rdf-interest@w3.org
Message-ID: <20040617113633.GB13583@homer.w3.org>

[megaphone Cc: list trimmed. someone should get a blog.]

* Danny Ayers <danny666@virgilio.it> [2004-06-17 12:25+0200]
> Nick Gibbins wrote:
> >While I have some sympathy with his cautious attitude towards the Semantic
> >Web, Sowa misses the rich history of hypertext systems that the WWW draws
> >on. A different characterisation of the growth of the Web might be:
> >
> >   1. In 6 years (1989 to 1995) with some hype and not
> >      insignificant EU and US funding, the WWW evolved from
> >      Tim BL's original proposal to a widespread but simple
> >      system which is less advanced in certain ways than
> >      previous hypermedia systems, such as the Hypertext
> >      Editing System, Xanadu, NLS, OWL-Guide and Hypercard
> > 
> >
> Heh, a little cynicism goes a long way ;-)
> btw, did anyone happen to save a copy of Ted Nelson's "XML is Evil" piece?
> http://ted.hyperland.com/XMLisEvil.html

Archive.org didn't have it, and all Google cache offers is: 
	XML Is Evil

        Theodor Holm Nelson
        Oxford Internet Institute and Project Xanadu

        I regret that this piece is too inflammatory to publish in its
	current form. For a very mild statement on the subject, see my earlier piece,
	"Embedded Markup Considered Harmful," at

So I guess it's vanished, for now.

The way I think about the Web and SW is that it is a single project.

	Traveller: I'd like to find my way to "Semantic Web", please.
	Bystander: Well... I wouldn't start from here.

The Web happened. It's a big important machine in constant 
operation, and we're trying to make it a bigger better 
machine without having any downtime and a billion-unit 
software upgrade. It's a melting pot. It's a crossroads. 
Everyone wants a piece of it. Maybe things would have been a little
different if we'd stuck with the PICS-NG s-expression syntax for RDF
that was originally proposed (http://www.w3.org/TR/NOTE-pics-ng-metadata). 
Or if we'd based it on Prolog. Or SQL. Or both. Everyone wants a 
piece of it. Maybe we should have told people to just
stick Prolog and SQL batch script files on their Web servers. Well,
they've been able to do that for 10+ years now, and the practice hasn't
caught on. XSLT and XQuery are the closest we've seen in that space.
RDF/SW largely addresses the boring details that stop us from putting Prolog
and SQL directly in the Web. Charset concerns, unarticulated closed
world assumptions, strategies for planet-wide unique identification, ...

RDF and the W3C SW project are, to my mind, interesting _because_ they're 
modest. We lose a lot of the features that worked on intranet scale systems, and
only add things back in carefully, incrementally. I'd rather ship
technology that was more modest than SQL and Prolog, than tech that was
more complex. There is the basis of a legitimate complaint here though.
The constraint that we deploy things cautiously, incrementally, has
meant that OWL was built on top of RDF which was built on top of XML
which was built on top of URIs and Unicode. All good in principle, but
it can make the finished product hard to present and hard to comprehend.
To understand how to read and write OWL documents, you need to know XML
level stuff (entities, elements/attribute rules, charset issues), as
well as RDF's convention for encoding binary relations in XML, as well
as OWL's convention for encoding Description Logic constructs in RDF.
That's the price we're currently paying, "well, I wouldn't start from
here".  I find it livable with, workroundable, and more realistic than
imagining we can reinvent an entire Web Version 2.0 from a nice clean blank

Received on Thursday, 17 June 2004 07:37:15 UTC

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