W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-rdfcore-wg@w3.org > December 2002

Re: "meaningless terms" verbage for Primer

From: Patrick Stickler <patrick.stickler@nokia.com>
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2002 11:16:18 +0200
Message-ID: <007301c2a0f5$f6c0b010$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]

> > Then we need to say where we've backed off from M&S.
> I agree.  However, I don't think the Primer is the place to do this 
> (example:  isDefinedBy)

Well, although it probably also needs to be said in some
normative doc, I think that a statement such as what I have 
proposed, massaged to the satisfaction of the WG, is essential 
to have in the Primer, for those users who will not (or cannot)
dig into the bowels of the normative definition of RDF, as
there will be many, many folks who will base their
understanding of RDF primarily (or solely) on the Primer
and will not look at, or only glance at portions of, the
other documents.

We should not make the mistake of underestimating the power
of suggestion that examples have, nor miss the fact that many,
if not most, users of RDF will simply mimic the examples, 
based on their natural language understanding of the terms
used, and limited probably only to their example usage
in the Primer.

I think that some members of the WG are viewing the proposed
statement from the perspective of a technically savvy
knowledge representation specialist who will perhaps read
through the Primer as a first step but go on to fully digest
the complete content of the normative documents, and not from 
the perspective of folks simply wanting to capture their
knowledge in RDF and only wanting/needing/able to learn just
enough RDF to do it. Those who have expressed disfavor over
such a statement might do well to step back and take a broader
view of the matter.

We need to be responsible and say in no uncertain terms
where the RDF vocabulary is well defined and where it is
open to free interpretation and ambiguity.

Heck, much/most of the grief we've had to date has been from 
folks interpreting the examples in M&S in different ways
and having no normative definition to fall back on. We are
simply repeating past errors by again including examples
using terms that have no formal meaning unless we at least
flash some big red light for users to let them know that
"here be dragons".

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

> > Human intuition about what the natural language mnemonics of the
> > terms suggests has no normative weight here, and folks are free
> > to use the terms in whatever way they choose without violating
> > the RDF specs in any way.
> I don't know about that.  Do you mean that even if something is 
> specified in English in an RDF normative spec, that doesn't matter, and 
> only what is describable in the model theory must be adhered to?

Not at all. I'm not making any distinction between different methods
of defining the meaning of terms -- only whether the meaning *is*
defined or not.


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.

There is obvious *benefit* from having such a statement, and unless
someone can demonstrate that such a statement is incorrect, conflicts
with the concensus of the WG, or is in some other way harmful to
RDF users, I expect and hope to see some form of it in the Primer.

I suspect that the resistence to having the truth stated so plainly
is a subconscious embarassment over the actual stupidity and 
uselessness of defining terms without meaning, which for a standard
that is supposed to facilitate the *consistent* interpretation of
knowlege shared between arbitrary systems is arguably an error that
should be corrected and reflects very bad practice.

But if the meaningless terms are to remain, for whatever reason,
let's be up front about it and warn users that they can't expect
any consistent, global interpretation of them, ever.

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.

Received on Wednesday, 11 December 2002 04:16:50 UTC

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