"Is the Semantic Web Hype?":

The following statements are nonsense
“RDF is more semantic than XML”
“RDF allows us to reason concretely about the real world”
“The power of RDF is its semantic model”

I came across this excellent presentation by Mark Butler, of HP, today. It manages to explain RDF and the semantic web through concise lists and quotes from the XML/RDF world.

Watching the RDF wheel spin around in the proverbial mud has always been interesting, but disappointing. There’s an ass-load of text — or “churn” as some call it — spent explaing what seems like a simple concept, i.e.,

RDF Term Example
Subject DrunkAndRetired.com
Predicate Created by
Object Coté

S.S. Abstraction

In the more concrete coding world, we have the concept of “over-abstraction”: basically, the design for something is so high-level and abstract that it’s useless for any practical application. Ed dubbed this concept the “S.S. Abstraction.” Usually when the S.S. Abstraction docks at your port, you spend a lot of time writing and talking about design before writing a prototype or executing any code; that is, there are completly groundless design claims made. You’d think that programmers are very scientific and numbers oriented, but after just a slight dip in the stream, you realize that we’re very superstitious, non-Baconian type people: we practically follow our own form of computational voodoo.

Back to RDF…

After reading the presentation, esp. the quotes pulled from XML big-wigs, my feelings that RDF is an example of the S.S. Abstraction in the standards world seem sound: the RDF standard appears to be evolving without enough testing for it’s usability as a technology; that is, how useful and easy it is for programmers to use RDF.

On a brighter note, it is a very young standard, and there does seem to be quite a bit of self-corrective kick-backing going on. As one of the quotes in the presentation says,

25 years ago, Ed Feigenbaum described
Terry Winograd’s work (on Artificial
Intelligence) as a “breakthrough in
enthusiasm.”

I worry that web services and the semantic
web, in their reliance on effective
computational semantics are vulnerable to
the same criticism.