[foaf-dev] Introduction

Dan Brickley danbri at danbri.org
Wed Jun 3 12:02:49 CEST 2009

On 3/6/09 08:06, Luke Maurits wrote:
> Have I just started paying attention at a bad time (perhaps this apparent inactivity is correlated
> with the recent server downtime?)

You're absolutely right. Things are too quiet lately!

Basically FOAF was most active during the period when Libby Miller and 
myself were fortunate enough to have dayjobs that were all about 
building tools and community around practical RDF technologies. In 2001 
we wrote a proposal for an EU project, SWAD-Europe which got accepted 
and gave us a few years where we could both spend a lot of time hanging 
around with the early-years RDF developer community, building 
collaborations with folk from rdfweb-dev, foaf-dev, demos etc. Also the 
SKOS work now being finalised at W3C was a product of that same project.

Since 2005 we've both been away from the SemWeb scene a bit, and FOAF 
developments slowed down. I rev'd the spec mildly to accomodate OpenID 
in 2007, but we didn't have the 100% semwebbing lifestyle of previous 

Things are changing a bit, recently.

Firstly, at W3C there is now a Social Web incubator group, 
http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/socialweb/ which meets weekly and which 
I'm co-chairing with Daniel Appelquist and Harry Halpin. This gives a 
broader forum through which FOAF developments can have a public 
heartbeat, and through which wider issues (privacy, I18N etc) can be 
raised and managed. There have also been many developments in the Web 2 
scene, such as the excellent Portable Contacts work. I propose that in 
any future revs to the FOAF spec we defer as much as possible to the 
design and evaluation work done for PC's treatment of vcard / 
addressbook data, while exploring other areas (trust, recommendations, 
digital library integration) that a bare-bones addressbook spec doesn't 

Secondly, both Libby and I are back working on Semantic Web projects, in 
particular we're both involved in a future-of-TV project, NoTube that 
has just started. My work  is through having take a post at Vrije 
Universiteit Amsterdam as well as with my friends at Asemantics; Libby 
has recently joined the BBC, who have a lot of other interesting SemWeb 
and linked data things going on too.

One of the characteristics of RDFWeb/FOAF that I always emphasised was 
the decentralisation: that people could create extensions and addons to 
FOAF data without asking permission. This has certainly happened: DOAP, 
SIOC, Yandis (russian search engine), ratings, and others.

However it is time to give the core of FOAF an update, a makeover, and 
shake things up again. Some of the things that were not ready when FOAF 
was last super-active include SPARQL, RDFa, SKOS, FOAF-SSL. Each of this 
changes and improves the landscape we operate in. SPARQL allows us to 
build databases that keep track of who-said-what data. And through other 
new things like OpenID, OAuth, and the increased ease of use of XML 
Signature (it ships with Java), as well as the great FOAF-SSL work on 
the foaf-protocols list, there are many aspects of provenance and 
who-said-what to explore. RDFa lets us deploy FOAF descriptions directly 
within (X)HTML pages, and enjoys support from both Yahoo and Google.

And SKOS, which is just being finalised at W3C, provides a framework for 
talking about topics/subjects, giving us a critical ingredient for 
talking in detail about skills and expertise in a way we couldn't do 4-5 
years ago. The SKOS implementation report at 
http://www.w3.org/2006/07/SWD/SKOS/reference/20090315/implementation.html shows 
some of the SKOS datasources that have come online recently. Each of 
these provide descriptions of topics that we can and should associate 
with people to better describe their interests and expertise.

Now, back re community, in the old days we were very IRC based. I'm 
wondering what people's preferences are now. Twitter/identica, wikis, 
blogs, the mailing list, etc are all ingredients. I think regardless, 
having a regular heartbeat of some kind, and a well-structured issues 
list, is the main thing missing...

What I'd rank as priorities for the next few weeks:

  * complete the migration to Amazon EC2 hosting (wiki is current concern)
  * test and double-test backup/recovery procedures there
  * finish updates to spec management tool (specgen.py); libby has 
picked up this task recently
  * push out a modest revision of the spec, to get things moving again
...and then
  * have a sheduled irc chat, or a w3c socialweb xg call, or both, 
around issues/priorities and plan for evolving the namespace

I've also recently been trying to write down some of the previously 
unarticulated principles behind the project. You can see a bit of that 
in various presentations in http://www.slideshare.net/danbri but 

& http://www.slideshare.net/danbri/danbri-foaf-talk-social-web-camp-www2009
...re 4 freedoms: choice, expression, movement, & association

And also a bit about how FOAF and RDF/SW folk relate to other similar 
efforts such as microformats, and how keeping such broader principles in 
mind we can find ways to avoid thinking of these technologies as rival 
efforts. Eg http://www.slideshare.net/danbri/one-big-happy-family

The new Social Web incubator at W3C is also in line with that thinking, 
and I hope will provide a crossroads where all projects with similar 
goals can meet, collaborate and compare notes, particularly as they 
relate to the development and deployment of Web standards, and to issues 
such as portability and machine-readable descriptions in the Social Web. 
I encourage you and anyone else interested to join up via 
http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/socialweb/ (if you're not a W3C member, 
we'll invite you in as an expert; if our telecons are in the middle of 
your night, please encourage the group to make more use of email!).

Thanks for any thoughts on where all this should be heading.



ps. if anyone here in Amazon EC2 guru, I'd love some help with the new 
backups and disaster-recovery regime for foaf-project.org ...

pps. ditto re MediaWiki and OpenID addon expertise...

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