[foaf-dev] foaf history presentation

Dan Brickley danbri at danbri.org
Tue Jun 30 21:12:29 CEST 2009

Hi folks (FOAF list and SemWeb IG),

I gave an invited talk on monday, at a "Semantic Web perspectives" 
seminar in Dagstuhl in Germany. The title is thanks to Jim Hendler, 
"FOAF - the most used ontology in the history of the universe. How the 
hell did that happen?".

Obviously I wouldn't propose such a grand title myself, and in fact I 
added an extra "?" in the middle, but it's true that FOAF has had 
massively more visibility outside the traditional ontology / knowledge 
representation community than most other efforts. So I gave a talk 
giving some fragmented history explaining something of what happened, 
some ideas about why/how, and some notes on problems and issues.

Needless to say the slides were assembled late the night before. I 
didn't attempt an explicit "credits" slide, since so many of you 
contributed so much, I was fearful of missing people. For those of you I 
didn't namedrop, and those that I did, many thanks for all your hacking 
and enthusiasm!

Slides are here (in Flash and Keynote, sorry; I'll work out other format 
exports somehow...):


I'm not sure how much sense they'll make without my talk. Any 
thoughts/feedback welcomed on foaf-dev or wherever.

The dynamics of how something can get so big with so few polished and 
end-user-benefiting apps are interesting, to say the least. It also had 
me re-visit the old mailing list archives back to mid-2000. Re-reading 
the original goals and use cases,
...in the light of recent SemWeb developments is also a strange experience.

We have made so much progress, and yet the original use cases I mention 
are not entirely addressed yet:

     * "Find me today's web page recommendations made by people who work 
for Medical organisations".
     * "Find me recent publications by people I've co-authored documents 
     * "Show me critiques of this web page, and the home pages of the 
author of that critique"
     * etc...

Looking back it is clear these scenarios were grounded in early 
EU-funded work in the DESIRE project, where we had a bunch more similar 
"quality labelling"-related scenarios, see 

Now with POWDER, SKOS, SPARQL and RDFa in the technology enviroment, we 
can do quite a lot more than back in 2004-5 when FOAF was last actively 
evolving. In particular, SKOS and the Linked Data datasets I think 
really fill a gap: describing a person on their own is somewhat boring; 
describing them in the context of topics, places, content etc is much 
more fun...



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