RDF Semantics

The Mountain

IF THE MOUNTAIN WILL NOT COME TO MOHAMMED, MOHAMMED WILL GO TO THE MOUNTAIN – “If one cannot get one’s own way, one must adjust to the inevitable. The legend goes that when the founder of Islam was asked to give proofs of his teaching, he ordered Mount Safa to come to him. When the mountain did not comply, Mohammed raised his hands toward heaven and said, ‘God is merciful. Had it obeyed my words, it would have fallen on us to our destruction. I will therefore go to the mountain and thank God that he has had mercy on a stiff-necked generation.’

From the wonderful Phrase Finder

Google has entered the semantic web lists with the introduction today of Google Base. I tried it out by adding my recent RDF tutorial, and immediately ran into one problem when it didn’t like my use of a misspelled keyword: Burningbird. You can pull up the link using keyword search of RDF.

I’m not as negative as some folks on the service. I agree with Danny Ayers in that Google Base is a step forward in the effort to get folks to think about how to annotate their material online:

The mere existence of Google Base may help encourage developers to take the (Semantic) Web of Data idea a bit more seriously (though what I saw was still very document-oriented). The growth of folksonomies has already led a lot of people into the space between free-text indexing and rigid taxonomies, and it’s clear that when you use tech like RDF the two extremes are not mutually exclusive – you can exploit the good points of both. Google Base may be a few decades behind what can be done with Description Logics (such as RDF/OWL), but at least it’s a move away from the confines of hierarchies (XML/Gopher) and fixed record-oriented systems (SQL DBs) and towards a more flexible kind of relational approach. Google already make quite a bit of URIs with LinkRank, I imagine this system will go further, though probably not quite so far as their significance on the Semantic Web.

Before using, a person should carefully read the Terms of Service to see what can happen to your data; one addition since this product was originally leaked is that if you delete an item, it’s removed from the base.

My biggest concern about this service is the centralized, proprietary nature of this type of data store. Right now, I have simple-to-use plugins installed on my weblog tool that automatically generate very rich metadata formatted as RDF/XML, available for all. If you use Piggy Bank or some other tool that can consume RDF, or any tool that can work with XML, you have access to this data. It can be easily and unambiguously combined with other data from the same or other sources, and queried using the SPARQL query language. The ‘owner’ of the data is the originator of the data and whatever gatekeeping happens to the data is nodular and thus easily routed around.

In other words, the data is very web-like: structured, distributed, linked (discoverable), and malleable. Google Base is interesting, but it isn’t web-like. It’s architecture is contrary to Google’s own success, too, because the company’s processes have always gone to the source, rather than have the source go to it; earlier efforts that reversed this, such as the original Yahoo, have not been as successful.

With Base, Google has forgotten who is Mohammad and who is the Mountain.

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