W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-rdf-interest@w3.org > September 2004

RE: web proper names

From: John Black <JohnBlack@deltek.com>
Date: Tue, 21 Sep 2004 11:42:07 -0400
Message-ID: <CBEA695878CA104ABC6E74C6B17692755426A9@DLTKVMX2.ads.deltek.com>
To: <Patrick.Stickler@nokia.com>, <henry.story@bblfish.net>, <www-rdf-interest@w3.org>
Cc: <h.halpin@ed.ac.uk>, <ht@inf.ed.ac.uk>

> From: Patrick.Stickler@nokia.com
> Sent: Tuesday, September 21, 2004 5:03 AM


> One may make this assumption, and yet be wrong. Only the creator of
> a URI can say what it denotes. And to use that URI to refer 
> to anything
> else is socially unacceptable behavior. People should respect 
> the denotation
> of a URI assigned by the creator of that URI. If the denotation is not
> clear, then either (a) ask the creator to clarify the 
> denotation, or (b)
> don't use that URI. IMO, this is the foundation of responsible social
> behavior on the web and semantic web.
> Not if folks employ proper social manners and respect the denotations
> assigned by the creators of URIs. 
> Wherever there is ambiguity about the denotation of a name, there
> will be confusion. The solution is to clarify the denotation, and
> where necessary, mint and employ new names to reinforce that 
> clarification.
> The problem is not in the names themselves, or how we construct
> those names (lexically/syntactically) but in the way people
> use the names -- and that is a social/behavioral problem, not a
> technical one; and therefore, the solution is social, not technical.

Social convention is one of two problems I would like to comment on here, 
the other is symbol-sense representation.

In my view, such social manners are most fruitfully analyzed in terms of 
common knowledge using epistemic logic. When a URI denotes, it does so 
because everyone in a group knows what it denotes, and further, everyone 
knows that everyone knows what it denotes, and so on. In practice, of 
course, this process must be bounded. But it can't be avoided. There has to 
be a convention for publication of symbols (URIs in this case) that 
establishes this common knowledge of the sense it will have for the group 
that uses it. And it is not impossible. This is just what has been going 
on for years in the process of the creation of normative standards of 
computer languages. It involves concession to an authority such as ISO or 
W3C, who develops consensus among a small vanguard of potential users and 
then in a process of public announcement, or Kripkian baptism, network 
effect marketing, and compliance certification entices large groups of 
human and software agents to agree on the denotation of the symbols in the 
language. Thus in HTML, the symbol "<table>" denotes a certain type of 
graphic grid layout structure to millions of browser and editor software 
packages as well as to millions of human HTML authors.

In my opinion, the RDF specification is incomplete because it needs to 
include a standard for the decentralization and distribution of this 
normative standardization process itself. In a section that was ahead of 
its time, but not correctly worked out, the working group had a section 
in the specification that would have begun this. I am referring  
to the section about social meaning that was struck. There were many very 
strong objections to this. One was that it seems to give unwarranted power 
to organizations or individuals who would promulgate a vocabulary 
expressing a world view obnoxious to others. This problem is especially 
acute when a URI parasitically appropriates the sense of a common natural 
language term that no one owns. This need could be addressed by an explicit 
redefine performative, which would be interpreted as legally, that is, in a 
socially acceptable because explicit manner, breaking in a certain context 
with the social conventions established for the denotation of that symbol 
by the originating authority.

The other problem to be solved is how to represent the denotation of a 
symbol in a useful, machine readable manner. This is the what that is known 
when common knowledge is established. This problem is far more complex that 
it seems. The attempt to build machine readable, usable dictionaries has 
defied solution for years. And it may never be achieved. Take a symbol 
such as John Black, denoting me, I say. What does it mean to know the 
denotation of that symbol? If you receive a file in the FOAF vocabulary, 
with my IFP mailbox, do you know me? How could I ever represent what 
that symbol denotes to me? For starters I would need to include a 
complete autobiography, copies of all my art work, etc. What does it 
mean to my mother, to my friends, to people on this list? There 
is an immeasurable difference in the quality and quantity of descriptive 
material associated with this symbol and known to these individuals and 

Never-the-less this too can be done to an extent, useful for many 
different purposes. Last week I began collecting such machine readable 
representations of symbol senses on a wiki page at 
http://kashori.com/wikiPim/CategoryBoundedDescriptions. Among those 
I have collected so far are:
and now

This last proposal appears to address some of these issues. It includes 
the concept of a naming authority, with a Kripkian baptism, and 
yet shows how it can be distributed. It concisely collects as little 
or as much of the descriptive properties of the entity denoted by the 
name and shows how to collect them in a concise structure. 

John Black

> Patrick
Received on Tuesday, 21 September 2004 15:42:09 UTC

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