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Re: Was RDF started in 1989? Then why was it lost?

From: Dan Brickley <danbri@w3.org>
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2003 04:36:51 -0400
To: Jimmy Cerra <jimbobbs@hotmail.com>
Cc: www-rdf-logic@w3.org
Message-ID: <20030423083651.GR9281@tux.w3.org>

* Jimmy Cerra <jimbobbs@hotmail.com> [2003-04-22 22:32-0400]
> Take a look at the graphic [1] at the top of Tim Burners-Lee's original
> proposal for the WWW [2].  The similarities between that image and a RDF
> graph are remarkable!  Is RDF a direct descendent of that work?  Why did
> the linking mechanism for HTML drift from "semantically useful" arcs to
> generic anchors?  I mean, a lot of the issues that Dr. Burners-Lee
> described (such as the inadequacy of keywords) were repeated with search
> engines on the WWW.  Why was the originally intended linking concept
> lost and supplanted with the less-effective system predominately used
> now?

Yep, I was suprised when I stumbled across that old doc too. I wrote a 
little note about it doing a compare and contrast, converting the 
original diagram into 'real' RDF. I think DanC made a version too, 
though I don't have that link handy.


Oh there's also a Javascript/prolog demo at 
http://www.w3.org/1999/11/11-WWWProposal/rdfqdemo.html showing the 
data being queried clientside.

In terms of 'why it took so long', I guess time just flies when 
you're having fun, or something. I wasn't there, but apparently 
TimBL's keynote at the 1994 Web Conference touched on many semweb 
themes. For eg see Dan's trip report,
The Future of the Web Tim Berners-Lee, CERN
The Web as a Knowledge Base

Currently, links between nodes on the web are constructed by the author 
for the use of the reader, but they convey little information to the 
machine that would allow it to do automated indexing or searching, or to make inferences.

There has long been a notion of "typed links" in the web software 
architecture, but it has not been deployed in practice. Relatively 
modest applications of this concept include links that associate a 
stylesheet with a document, or links that aggregate several nodes in a 
collection for the purpose or printing the aggregate document

Some of Tim's slides are now online,
From http://www.w3.org/Talks/WWW94Tim/
This is the classic picture of hypertext which used to be a part of talks 
in the days when we had to explain what hypertext is. The web is a set of nodes and links.

To a user, this has become an exciting world, but there is very little 
machine-readable information there. The meaning of the documents is 
clear to those with a grasp of (normally) English, and the significance 
of the links is only evident from the context around the anchor.

To a computer, then, the web is a flat, boring world devoid of meaning.

This is a pity, as in fact documents on the web describe real objects and 
imaginary concepts, and give particular relationships between them.

For example, a document might describe a person. The title document 
to a house describes a house and also the ownership relation with a person.

Adding semantics to the web involves two things: allowing documents which 
have information in machine-readable forms, and allowing links to be 
created with relationship values. Only when we have this extra level of 
semantics will we be able to use computer power to help us exploit the 
information to a greater extent than our own reading.

An important effect of developing security protocols on the web is the 
abstract space of web information is linked to reality. By taking 
verifiable responsibility for web statements, a party guarantees an 
isomorphism between the web and reality.

This means that machines, as well as operating on the web information, 
can do real things. For example, a program could search for a house and 
negotiate transfer of ownership of the house to a new owner. The land 
registry guarantees that the title actually represents reality.

So that sorta skipped us from 1989 to 1994. From there, the path 
to RDF is reasonably well known. There was PICS work at W3C from late 1995, 
Guha's MCF at Apple too, which found it's way to W3C via Netscape
in 1997, alongside developments like SHOE which later fed into DAML(+OIL) and
hence OWL. So RDF was a combination of several paths crossing I guess,
you can look at TimBL's old proposals and each of various other 
developments and see some influence on the current RDF design.

MCF for eg was quite important, not least since in its RSS-like format
it had some grassroots adoption (by Mac users at least) in 1996. See 

The goals of the PICS project are also pretty 
relevant. These are restated in 

Not sure that really answers your question re the HTML linking side of 
things; I only got involved when RDF came along, and didn't follow the
HTML side of things very closely. Maybe others could comment...


> --
> James F. Cerra 
> [1] http://www.w3.org/History/1989/Image1.gif
> [2] http://www.w3.org/History/1989/proposal.html
Received on Wednesday, 23 April 2003 04:37:02 UTC

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