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

Re: live meaning and dead languages

From: Tim Berners-Lee <timbl@w3.org>
Date: Sat, 7 Feb 2009 16:12:36 -0800
Cc: <semantic-web@w3.org>
Message-Id: <F557CAD3-5C25-4376-8D95-20FFC7F27BAC@w3.org>
To: Jeremy Carroll <jeremy@topquadrant.com>


The Semantic Web is a system we design, not one we observe from the  
sidelines as we do with Latin, say, or English.  It is simply a  
different system. While analogies with natural languages are sometimes  
useful they are often quit misleading. In particular, meaning as use  
is not the basis of the design.

The design of HTTP space is that URIs -- terms in the language --  are  
owned by particular agency -- people or communities of them.
The terms are defined well enough for a particular use.
The defining agency is often available to resolve the meaning n the  
case of dispute.
The lifetime over which the terms are useful are the lifetime of the  

For example:

wgs84:lat is short for a URI defined by the international group WGS84.
The rdf property makes reference to a spec which has been implemented  
thousands of times.
It is is well known as the numbers you get out of a GPS unit.
The term can only be used for positions on earth in a particular  
If a new GPS system comes into play in the future which is much better  
than the current, and uses a different projection, then new GPS  
systems may be built to use new different terms by default.
The new terms will of course use a different URI, so there will be no  
But the relationships  between the projections will be well documented.
And the WGS84 system I would expect to have a very valuable life, huge  
amounts of data being reliably exchanged using it, fro maybe  
centuries, and I hope even in future millennia being a dead language  
which is extremely well known by future librarians (human or not).

This stability of terms like this if very important for the systems we  
are building.
You say you are an engineer not a philosopher.
I would, as you know, call you a philosophical engineer.  We are, in  
the semantic web, building systems in which we engineer the philosophy  
so that the system will have properties we desire.


On 2009-02 -05, at 22:34, Jeremy Carroll wrote:

> One of the occasional defects of people in SW is a tendency to arm  
> chair philosophizing.
> I will indulge.[...]
Received on Sunday, 8 February 2009 04:44:21 UTC

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