Daily Archives: 2002/11/17

Dave Winer and the "Truth" about RDF

So quoth Dave Winer;

After all these years, I’ve concluded that if I can’t understand it, it doesn’t have much of a chance in the market.

Well, without taking potshots at Dave, I think this is a fairly poor way to judge a technology. The interaction of a technology with its users is an incredibly complex environment that has no single metric that can indicate the success or failure of that technology. But what I look for in any technology, is network effects.

I haven’t talked much about RDF or the Semantic Web in my blog yet, so I’ll just say a quick word about them.

The Semantic Web is the Web with an additional architectural constraint that could be called “Explicit Data Semantics”; that data (representations, in the case of the Web) will be constrained to be explicit about its implied semantics. This adds the additional desirable property to the system of partial understanding. In a nutshell, this basically means that you get to avoid the “schema explosion” problem, where you have a bazillion different XML schemas, and understanding them is an all or nothing proposition (i.e. where software only understands the schemas it was programmed to understand). RDF and the Semantic Web doesn’t change one important thing; software will not “know” anything more than it was programmed to know. But it does allow a single piece of software to be able to do whatever it is that it does, on any data anywhere. For example, I could write software that searched for “people”, and it could find references to “people” in many different XML documents if RDF were used. And that generates network effects up the wazoo.