FOAF and Web of Trust

Marc Cantor recently sent an email to the RDFWeb-Dev mailing list regarding FOAF. I chatted with Marc about this offline, and also the concept of ‘verification’ of FOAF relationships.

The social aspects of the increased interest in FOAF, I’ll discuss in the Burningbird weblog, but there are some RDF components I wanted to touch on here.

For instance, Marc mentions setting some relationships as ’standard’, such as the following:

– they are acquainted with somebody
– they know somebody by reputation
– they know somebody in passing
– or that they don’t know somebody, but wish to

First, there is no ’standard’ with this effort – even RDF is a specification and not a standard, as with all W3C efforts. Secondly, when Marc discusses ‘extending’ the vocabulary, he’s not necessarily aware of the fact that the whole point on an XML vocabulary being based on the RDF model is that anyone can create their own vocabulary and combine it with FOAF if they so choose – the original FOAF vocabularly doesn’t have to be ‘extended’. FOAF, and in fact all RDF vocabularies are not the same as RSS 2.0.

In fact, any time there’s extensions in the world of XML, problems occur, so extensions and versions should be discouraged at all costs. Clarifications are good – extensions, and in particular, modifications and deletions are bad.

The relationships that Marc refers to are not coming from FOAF but from another vocabulary, what looks like a Relationship vocabulary. They’re being picked up through the increased use of several of the FOAF Tools including the Add-a-Friend.

What the FOAF folks are going to have to decide is exactly what it is that they’re describing. Just like with RSS, the proponents end up including items within the vocabulary just because it’s handy. For instance, there’s discussion about adding address and movement information – but what does this have to do with Friend-of-a-Friend?

The key to a successful RDF/XML vocabulary is to keep it small, and to the point, and focused on the data of the business of the vocabulary. The FOAF creators know this, and I know that this new found enthusiasm for FOAF won’t push them into rushing extensions into FOAF that are ill-thought. Dan Brickley’s already posted some good responses back to Marc, as has Morten Frederiksec.

It will be interesting to see what Marc has in mind for this, in particular from a ‘verification’ point of view. Whatever FOAF is, it isn’t the Web of Trust, and that’s got me a bit concerned at this point – folks trying to make it into such.
BLOG NAME: Burningbird
TITLE: I wanna hold your hand
DATE: 07/23/2003 07:07:08 AM
Networks of friends, or at least people that know each other, seem to be very popular lately – I had two invitations yesterday to two different ‘friends’ networks. While I appreciate the thought and the invitation – I really do – I declined both; no…

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