RDF Semantics Weblogging

Common interchange format

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

After sleeping too late this morning and then waking with a headache–a response to long hours this weekend, culminating with finding out late yesterday the work was for naught and has to be re-done–I didn’t have enough time or energy to go for a hike somewhere, so I started playing around with technology.

I know this doesn’t make sense: why would a person spend all weekend with code and then spend time coding during off-hours? It’s really a variation of setting your alarm for Saturday morning just so you can turn it off when you don’t have to get up on your day off.

What? You don’t do this?

Anyway, I’ve been playing around in the WordPress code because my outgoing trackbacks and pingbacks have stopped working. I’ve also been playing around with some new PHP toys that I’ll cover in an upcoming new LAMP essay. However, most of the day has been spent thinking about interoperability.

The biggest challenge to industries in the past has been to establish a data model for the industry that all the participants could agree on. Once agreed on, then the groups could generate a data format that allows companies to electronically transmit data back and forth without having to go through a lot of transforms.

Some people think XML has eliminated the data transform problem, but XML is nothing more than a structured syntax – there is no ‘data’ within the XML model. It’s the same as having an alphabet, but no common agreed on language. I can scribble letters and you can scribble letters but if we don’t agree on what those letters mean, all we’re doing is creating pretty pictures.

Even RDF isn’t data. It’s a step up from XML in that it provides a structure for how objects relate to each other, but you still have to define the ‘objects’.

Anyway, I was thinking of data interoperability today because of the recent closing of, not to mention other recent movements between Movable Type and WordPress, Movable Type and Textpattern, and so on. I was reminded that one of the original purposes behind the Atom project was to define a common interchange format between tools, so that people could easily move from one to another. With this, people wouldn’t be facing some of the difficulties the folks are now facing, trying to get their Manila based exports into a format usable by other weblogging tools – something I’ve heard is not trivial.

However, the Atom folks went the syndication and API route and put an interchange format on the back burner. Too bad, really, because something like that would be rather handy now.

As coincidence would have it, one of the architects of Atom, Sam Ruby, volunteered to help write a data transform for those who are currently impacted by the shut-down. He wrote:

However, this is not a time for religious debate or partisanship. It is a time for compassion and an opportunity to learn and improve. Enough so that I am willing to step forward and offer to help with writing of conversion and migration tools. Assuming that the input looks anything like this format, I am willing to write conversion tools to either a comparable format or to a blosxom’s directory layout.

As Sam mentions, escape sequences and odd characters will now take on special interest, because these usually cause problems when either exporting or importing data. As he also mentions, getting one’s own domain is also a good think to think about now, too.

It’s great that individuals are stepping up to help out during this ‘crises’, but the better environment in the long run is to agree to a common interchange format and have all tools support it. Then people could export their weblogs weekly, or even daily if they’re paranoid enough (and no one could blame people for being paranoid now); if something like this were to happen again, the impact would be minor at best.

We have to stop putting those who aren’t technical into the position of being dependent on the technically proficient to come riding in to save the day every time a new ‘business decision’ is made. I like riding white horses as much as the next person, but it’s hard to walk about when people are kissing the tops of your boots.

However, technology is easy, business agreements are hard–in this environment, business agreements are damn near impossible. So until utopia hits, I also volunteer my help for those displaced from who want to move to WordPress or Textpattern. You’ll have to find your own server space, but I can help you get the tool installed and get your data ported to this environment.

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