[rdfweb-dev] responding to a new wave of anti-RDF sentiment

Jo Walsh jo at frot.org
Sat Jul 16 22:56:13 UTC 2005

i'm forwarding the message below, as an example of a tendency i've
seen on several domain-orthogonal mailing lists recently, with a
common anti-RDF set of messages which run roughly like this:

"RDF is too hard"
"It is too complicated to parse, XML is much easier"
"There are no application toolkits or simple frameworks accessible in
a low-footprint install to php-type developers"
"I don't need RDF for my application to work, why should anyone else?"
"Microformats / OPML / $monthly_flavour is what the other cool kids
are doing and will provide an emergent standard"

I find it hard not to come over defensive when others sound
dismissive, but i can't resist making at least one response to this
row when it comes up in different domains. Meanwhile, the people
working on ministandards for small domains, while doing some good
thinking about modelling and vocabularies, are definitely pushing
their work as an RDF alternative, making the above claims, and gaining
a lot of blogosphere leverage by virtue of their position on the
power-law curve of public notice. 

When FOAF broke over the social net apps, dan and others wrote some nice,
positive-view stuff on "why the big picture matters". My sense is that
we could really do with a visually appealing, simple,
positive-refutation document (not slagging off the xml formats, just
setting out the rdfweb-dev stall).

have been making cartoons to use as talk slides and to explain some of
the proof-of-concept data aggregation / syndication stuff we've been
doing with wirelesslondon. They are knockoffs of the CC cartoons -
saul christened them 'creative cum-ons'. They go down pretty well.
http://map.wirelesslondon.info/docs/ http://smal.omweb.org/

I'm very much into making a 'why-RDF' series, perhaps more in the
style of the beautiful isometric-view figures that ephidrina did for
the SWAD-E t-shirt, which i get asked about a lot when i wear it. 
I moot this here because i'd like help with a script, that makes clear
network-effect data merging, that touches on now-trendy geo and
calendaring and connects to the hard work done there in RDF, that will
make programmers think twice and non-programmers look harder.

( Incidentally i am longing for a toolkit that i could use to
dynamically generate isometric or perspective views from RL geodata
and decorate with RDF-derived bits of cartoon imagery. Is there
anything near that out in the world - in the mmorpg domain? )

http://lists.advocacydev.org/lists/arc/dev/2005-07/msg00017.html are
my current set of counter-arguments which i would tone down for a more
public, less friendly list than the above, for sure, in response to:

----- Forwarded message -----

To: "Joshua Tauberer / GovTrack.us" <tauberer at govtrack.us>
Subject: Re: [dev] Open Databases & the Semantic Web
Cc: Jo Walsh <jo at frot.org>, dev at lists.advocacydev.org

I agree, the Semantic Web is quite compelling in theory. However for a
system such as you are proposing to work, you will either need to
build some nice, easy to use tools in order to enter data, or use a
format other than RDF. I agree that the set of semantic web
technologies is really nice, they are also hard to use, and simply too
complicated. Technology can't be the stumbling block or getting open
legislative information won't get done.

Succesful technologies employee David Weinberger's idea of 'small
pieces, loosely joined' HTML and RSS have been successful because they
were easy to learn, easy to parse, and simple to understand. RDF does
not meet that test.

Last thursday night I attended David Winer's road show at the Berkman
Center where he evangelized OPML (and his new OPML editor) as another
simple XML format that is going to be everywhere soon.  OPML is a
simple XML format for creating trees of hierarchical information. At
its core, legislative data is hierarchical information, and could be
stored as OPML. What makes OPML magic is that you can include pointers
between hierarchies. So you could delegate responsibility for the
Massachusetts state legislature, to a volunteer who knows about MA,
and he/she in turn could delegate responsibility about a particular
legislator. This allows small pieces of the nationwide database to be
loosely joined without a centralized system keeping track of things.

I don't think David understands his own technologies potential (he
tried to show it off as a blog publishing tool) - but I think that it
will be used for more than outlines. The podcasting community is using
OPML to maintain their distributed show directory, and it is just
starting to catch on else where. Someday, OPML might be another sort
of universal glue, in the same way that RSS is today.

RDF is the right solution from a purely technological perspective, but
it still might not be the right real world solution. There are serious
downsides to either approach.

----- End forwarded message -----

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