RDF Specs

Critical Mass

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

When I read about the RDF Data organization, I was reminded that the difficulties inherent with deriving a new vocabulary and associated functionality isn’t found in the bits of XML or the bytes of code: it’s generating enough interest and uses thereof for the vocabulary to reach critical mass; making it into a viable component of the semantic web.

By critical mass, I mean that there is enough meaningful data to inspire applications that mine the data and that in turn, generate processes that couldn’t be done without the data: similar in concept to the critical mass that HTML received and the subsequent spawning of both browsers and search bots. Private or commercial applications that use RDF/XML for their internal systems are all well and good and provide needed exposure–but they aren’t a component of the semantic web if the data is not publicly available and with enough critical mass to make it useful.

You may have noticed that I used the small ’s’ and small ‘w’ semantic web; the reason is that I see the Semantic Web, the uppercase version, as a top-down approach to building an intelligent web. A bottom up approach is just us folks, doing whatever it is that interests us and gets us excited–and, I hasten to add, that can be translated into RDF/XML. For some the exciting bits would be FOAF, others RSS, others DOAP, and so on. These are the vocabularies that need a critical mass, as the Uppercase bugger has knights and other nobility to do its promotion.

My own interests in semantic web data that can be defined with OWL/RDF lies in two areas: poetry and web object history. These have been represented by my work on two systems: The RDF Poetry Finder and PostCon. Yes, the two perpetual motion systems, always in development. Both of which would meaningless in and of themselves, unless they reach critical mass.

For instance, I use PostCon to manage some of my redirects and provide intelligent responses when a page has been pulled. I’ve also generated PostCon RDF/XML files for all of my weblog entries and placed them on the server. I believe at one point, I could even semi-search them in Google, but only when I’ve linked them from my HTML pages.

As for the Poetry Finder, well I’ve tried to interest two major poetry sites in this but to no avail, and am either looking at supporting a centralized repository of data for the nonce, or trying to get webloggers to generate RDF/XML files to go with their poetry discussions. (More on this later.) A simple enough form that can generate the RDF/XML, just as with FOAF, should work. It’s getting people to use it – demonstrating an advantage. FOAF adopters adopted FOAF because they’re basically tech tinkerers. Poets are not known to be tech tinkerers.

Regarding the data jewels of others, DOAP, the brainchild of Edd Dumbill hasn’t reached critical mass yet, but should. I think the key would be incorporation into a hugely popular site like SourceForge.

The growth of RSS has reached critical mass and way beyond at this point, though the differing formats still cause confusion. It was helped with its early promotion by major companies , but the real key was it’s support by aggressive individuals who have all the zeal of a fresh missionary among bad sinners. Even if the support was for plain vanilla XML rather than semantically intelligent XML (ooo, did I say a bad thing ooo). FOAF’s growth has also reached critical mass, helped primarily by the happy and gentle persistence of it’s creators, as well as adoption by some high profile people and applications.

Both vocabularies were also helped, quite significantly, by weblogging. In fact, I see weblogging as the leading agent of change for the semantic web–the tool/technique/genre/thing most effective in helping a vocabulary reach critical mass; and I’m not even wearing any pajamas as I make this statement (sorry, bad joke). The only problem is trying to get enough of a critical mass in weblogging to be heard above the competing noise, and then enough webloggers interested to jump start the generation of the data to reach the semantic web critical mass–all without having to have the zeal of a fresh missionary among very bad sinners.

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