I was sitting at the bar with Chaals and Danny Ayers (who I’d previously only known through mutual friends and by reputation) at the Fairmont Springs at lunch. He’s an RDF guy, and I put to him the question I’d put to Harry Halpin last night (while watching Super Troopers); Harry likes the loose structure of microformats (though he acknowledges the utility of established ontolologies for constrained domains like medicine and physics), and I wondered if maybe the linguistic model of exemplars would be useful in RDF and OWL to add some flexibility.
But if formal ontologies are too rigid, I think microformats is too loose. It’s great that people are tagging their content, and useful things can be done with these tags in the short term. But microformats is not immune to language drift. Someone will see a tag, misgrok the meaning from context, and idiosyncratically misapply it to other content. This is exacerbated by the international and multi-language nature of the Web.
For example, let’s say that someone had tagged some content with the word “meme” 15 years ago; it would clearly have referred to Dawkin’s model of “idea evolution” (where a concept is spread not through accuracy, but through adaption to its mental environment… an idea akin to Colbert’s “truthiness”). But a few years ago, it spread into common use as a synonym for “fad”; so far, it retains some superficial similarity to Dawkin’s idea. In a few more years, it will probably be a very dated word (like “groovy”) and may well shift to a meaning like “old-fashioned”; it would then have completely lost its essential meaning. So, a diagram of Dawkin’s model tagged “meme” would then be misinterpreted, misindexed, and regarded with confusion by a future reader.
In the long haul, RDF provides a more time-proof solution by providing conceptual context, not just a cluster of words.
I’m here in Banff, Canada for the 2007 W3C AC (Advisory Council) meeting. The AC is essentially the company reps to the W3C. I played a small part in one of the panel discussions yesterday.
It was the last presentation of the 2-day conference, and the theme was Web2.0: what it is, and how the W3C is adapting to and enabling it. I gave an overview of what Web2.0ey things WAF and WebAPI WGs are doing. It went well… I made a short SVG slideshow with some geeky in-jokes, and it got some laughs. It may have been slightly overshadowed, however, by the conversation between 2 of the other panelists: Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the creator of the Web) and Tim O’Reilly (a prominent tech publisher who coined the term Web2.0). Tough act to follow.
The conference was a lot of fun, as usual, and I got to meet and talk with a lot of technical luminaries, including Dave Raggett, who’s generously letting Chaals and I crash in his hotel room.
I’m writing in the lobby of a backpacker’s lodge (youth hostel) in Banff, Alberta. The Rockies loom all around the town, and I can see a snow-capped peak out the window. I flew into Calgary (airport code YYC, for some odd reason) and rented a car; the drive here was gorgeous. As I got into town, I saw a fleamarket/auction, and stopped in for the local flavor; I picked up a couple Sarah McLachlan CDs for a loony (1 Canadian dollar) on a lark.
It’s been a while since I stayed in a dorm-style hostel (replete with creaky bunk beds and slightly questionable bathrooms)… not since my days hitchhiking through Europe, if I recall correctly. The place is bustling with young-uns. Naturally, several of them are Australian (the kudzu of travelers), and most of the rest seem to be French-Canadian (though we’re a long way from Quebec). I think most of the residents are here for hiking, snowboarding, and skiing in the mountains. I plan on doing some hiking while I’m here, too, but I’m reluctant to do anything more X-treme, lest I need an X-ray afterward.