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Re: Statements about RDF (was: RDF Interface specification)

From: Dan Brickley <danbri@danbri.org>
Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2014 17:00:16 +0200
Message-ID: <CAFfrAFrAWs=781-pZHOJnCcVwC7PT3Q_V5Esm6xdYcfUDvycYA@mail.gmail.com>
To: Robin Berjon <robin@berjon.com>
Cc: Semantic Web <semantic-web@w3.org>, Phil Archer <phila@w3.org>, Nathan Rixham <nathan@webr3.org>, Adrian Gschwend <ml-ktk@netlabs.org>, bergi <bergi@axolotlfarm.org>, Manu Sporny <msporny@digitalbazaar.com>
Hey Robin,

On 3 July 2014 12:20, Robin Berjon <robin@berjon.com> wrote:
> Phil wrote:
>> Leaving aside the fact that we're stretched to breaking point in terms
>> of staff availability ... I'm looking for ways in which we could
>> establish something like a Semantic Web (or Linked Data) Access Group -
>> basically a group that defines a bucket full of stuff that means even
>> arch anti-Linked Data people will find useful and attractive. Something
>> that might bring SemWeb closer to Robin Berjon's vision
>> (http://berjon.com/web-2024/). I don't agree with his statements about
>> RDF, of course, but he's far from alone in his thinking.
> I guess that's my cue to jump in :)
> I know that the content in the post above has been characterised as dissing
> RDF. I'd like to underline the fact that that is not the case.
> My comments and predictions are not technical, they are ecological. To put
> this differently, if it is 2.3 billion years ago and you are the meanest,
> badassest anaerobe on Earth, you can evolve multicellularity and even higher
> intelligence all you want, you're still going to die a horrible death when
> the cyanobacteria oxygenate everything.
> This doesn't mean that I wish for RDF to die a horrible death, but the
> extrapolations I can make from the current ecosystem don't lead me to see it
> becoming a typical part of the Web platform. I could be wrong, I don't know
> everything, and there may be a tipping point. I will further note that
> "becoming a typical part of the Web platform" isn't the criteria for success
> for everything. For example, XML or XQuery have found their own large,
> successful niches (everything looks like a niche compared to the whole Web)
> and that's great.
> The basis for my prediction stems from two observations: the vast, vast
> majority of Web publishers I meet have no idea that RDF (still) exists, let
> alone that it could do anything for them; conversely I don't see any
> movement (but I may have missed stuff) to use RDF in a way that solves a
> sizeable tract of the problems this crowd is facing today (or that I suspect
> will be facing soon). Putting these two observations together, RDF could be
> the best thing since endorphins and it would still not make it big.

Yeah, it could be the next dihydrogen monoxide...

Of your vast vast majority of Web publishers, there's a good chance
some of them are amongst the millions and millions of domains
publishing schema.org markup. Which make no mistake about it, is an
RDF vocabulary.

Now you might say "nah, they're using microdata, so they're not
knowingly/willingly/consensually using RDF". But you could take that
line about TCP/IP too. Or you might suggest that all the bazillions of
schema.org factoids published using microdata aren't consumed as
triples/graphs. (That would also be a mistake.)

We risk falling into a trap here, and it's a trap that the Semantic
Web community themselves fall into: rejecting things as "not really
RDF" unless they're complicated, hard to use and 100% domain neutral.
The trap of thinking "that can't be RDF, because it's easy!".

When the phrase "Semantic Web" was first widely used, 2001-2, I heard
of several cases in which solid practical and useful RDF applications
were rejected by SemWeb-branded conferences for not being fancy enough
- they didn't make complicated fiddly use of rule languages or
ontology frameworks, typically. The instinct to say that schema.org
markup "isn't really RDF" is similar. It's too easy to use, doesn't
force publishers to debate about HTTP 303 and / vs # or use Protege
with reasoning addons or learn SPARQL or whatever. So it seems like a
kind of cheating. They can just publish the stuff, get some real world
benefit, and move on with their lives without worrying too much. How
could *that* count as RDF??

> Now, if I switch to a much more opinionated take I don't think that this is
> a fatality. I do not go into details in that post, but I do think that there
> are ways to make massive amounts of linked data emerge from the Web we have,
> primarily by making it vernacular through solving small, everyday paper-cut
> problems. The "Web Schema" thing I mention in that post is basically the
> semantic web freed from the shackles of the RDF data model :)

Funny - I think there *is* a sweet spot around that graph data model,
but freed from the shackles of some of the other complexities that
have been layered on top of it. The latest RDF specs give a name to
this, acknowledging that there is value in just using the graph
structure without necessarily buying into everything that sits on top:
"Generalized RDF".

Here's another take on it. Without there being an underlying data
model couched in terms of items/entities/things and their named
properties/relationships, it would have been a much much larger job to
"port" schema.org from Microdata to JSON-LD last year. But since both
of those specs (and RDFa too) share this common conceptual model, the
number of decisions needed to figure out how schema.org descriptions
should live when expressed in JSON-LD instead of as Microdata was
approximately zero. You might say that there's a difference between
"an items-and-their-properties URI-centric data model" and the full
terrifying horror of W3C RDF "done proper by the specs", and maybe
you'd be right. But it's an interesting piece of design space to be
exploring. It's even not a million miles from where the microformats
folk finally ended up.

> At any rate Phil, I'm heartily in favour of making semantics and data useful
> and attractive. If there's any way in which I can help, I'm more than happy
> to!



> --
> Robin Berjon - http://berjon.com/ - @robinberjon
Received on Thursday, 3 July 2014 15:00:44 UTC

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