Lots of FOAF

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

There seems to be a great deal of activity about FOAF lately, as pointed out by Danny Ayers:

The FOAF (“friend-of-a-friend”) page on the project Wiki is growing into a great link collection, so presumably there’s a fair bit of cross-project interest.

The FOAF project now has a new home page, a weblog, a Wiki and IRC channel (#foaf on

It’s also getting additional use out at Technorati, according to Joi Ito:

Technorati reads the FOAF file from your blog and creates a profile. Your picture from your FOAF file and a link to your profile shows up when you appear in people’s cosmos listings.

These are all good activities, particularly from an RDF perspective. Unlike HTML, RDF isn’t going to come blowing through the front door – it will creep in quietly through the backdoor with different applications that are based on the RDF model, and use the RDF/XML syntax.

However, having said this…

FOAF, as with RSS, does not make the semantic web, all by them lonesomes. Marc Cantor, also getting heavily involved in the FOAF world, recently wrote:

The connections between (n)Echo-Atom and FOAF should be obvious. Now throw in some ThreadsML and RVW – mix it up and out comes a semantic web!

Uh, no.

FOAF is an excellent way of identifying people whom you say you know, with some assumptions, but no guarantees, that they know you back. There is no inherent basis of trust or indication of relationship with FOAF, until you expand on the understanding of what ‘knows’ means in FOAF.

If one were to make a decision on buying a car or a computer based on the fact that you know a person who knows a person who knows a person who knows another who made a recommendation about this car or computer – all relationships documented with FOAF – well then, you deserve what you get if you get a lemon. Trust is diluted with each level of ‘knows’, within the current FOAF vocabulary and existing implementations of same.

There is little semantics in FOAF beyond the fact that it helps to loosely tie together a network of people, and provide some additional information about the people. With this and something like ThreadsML, you can also eventually find out the conversations the person is involved in. Add in this some RSS/Echo/Atom/whatever information and you’ll have a better idea of what they’ve written lately – but all of this combined is not “the Semantic Web”. It’s all just a piece, and a small one at that, of what will eventually become the Semantic Web.

We need a Turing Test of the Semantic Web, a test by while you’ll know the Semantic Web exists when you can do _____ on the web. For instance, I’ll know the Semantic Web exists when:

I can search for a poem about the loss of freedom, and one that uses a closed door to represent this feeling, metaphorically. In addition, I only want to see poems that someone I know, directly or indirectly (3 levels down, show relationship) has either reviewed or recommended, or discussed at some time. My preference would be British poet, a Romantic. Perferably, I would prefer a style similar to Wordsworth.

When I can do this, and I don’t get a lot of crap back as a result, then I’ll know that the Semantic Web is here.

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