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   RE: A certain difficulty

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  • From: Mark Birbeck <Mark.Birbeck@iedigital.net>
  • To: xml-dev@xml.org, www-rdf-interest@w3.org
  • Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2000 11:54:58 -0000

Bill dehOra wrote:
> :Jeff Sussna wrote [in response to Mark Birbeck]:
> :> Generally speaking, a complicated design is a bad design.
> :
> :I'd like to see the mathematical proof for that one! Once 
> again you are
> :introducing value judgements.
> We don't require mathematical proof to know that unneccesary 
> complexity in
> design reduces its potential. Induction from past exprience 
> is sufficient to
> give us an inkling of how to go about handling complexity in 
> many kinds of
> design. 

OK - I don't want to see the proof, I want to see the statistics.
Whichever way you have it, I don't see why when someone says "simple is
better" we should all nod in agreement as if an eternal truth has been
stated. It's one of those things that has become a common-place without
ever being proven. (I'm not saying "impenetrable is better", either. I
just balk at the tendency to imbue one person's value judgements with
the status of "a truth".)

> :> If an invention is brilliant but incomprehensible, no one will
> :> use it.
> :
> :Not so sure, myself. What category would you put Bayes in? I don't
> :understand it all, but plenty of people are producing some amazing
> :stuff. Perhaps we're getting philosophical here ...
> Bayesian probility isn't incomprehensible, far from it. I 
> find it hard to
> credit that one can understand predicate logic, XML, XML 
> namespaces and
> graphs, and not understand basic Baysian probability. Then 
> again even the
> simplest ideas can be made incomprehensible.

I should have made my point clearer; it was not Bayes who popularised
his theories, and in fact for a long time their usefulness was not
obvious to anyone, including him! I'm not saying this is ideal, I'm
simply objecting to the constant premise that the success or failure of
an invention lies in the hands of the inventor. Bayes was long dead
before his work became really useful. The important point is that it can
be others who interpret and explain the ideas. In fact, I don't mind
being one of the people who tries to come up with ways of explaining RDF
clearly to others (not saying I'll succeed!), if that then frees up the
people who devised it to get on and do the real boffin work of 'the next
thing'. I'm not going to just wait for them to explain it better.

> :> I worry sometimes that RDF will fall prey to a similar history as
> :> Lisp and Smalltalk.
> :
> :Very different. Anyway, does it matter if RDF goes that way? All I'm
> :saying is that RDF poses one way in which the 'semantic web' can be
> :implemented. In a year or two's time it may well be done a different
> :way, but as long as the semantic web is 'built', who cares which
> :standard is used to do it? Perhaps I'm too Darwinian in my 
> attitude to
> :technology for 21st century sensibilities!
> It matters because people don't want to invest in stillborn 
> technology. I
> assume it will matter to you because if you do, as you say, want the
> semantic web 'built', you are not going to get it with arbitrary
> specifications and hoping one of them takes off. Producing 
> specifications
> without regard to their ease of implementation is not a 
> sensible way to get
> things done.  

First, I'm afraid you have to take a punt sometimes. There are no
guarantees, but obviously experience helps you make right decisions more
often than wrong ones. People who don't want to "invest in stillborn
technology" have an easy solution - stay two years behind the curve.
Nothing wrong with that. But people who want to be at the leading edge
can't expect to have everything on a plate.

Second, I think we have to deal with concepts rather than implementation
as much as possible. I am building my software in such a way that I
don't care if RDF dies or not. I don't care if those who are trying to
use XLink to achieve the same thing triumph and RDF goes quietly. I
think the semantic web will still be built - I have my take on it, and
others will have theirs.

> Perhaps we can call this strategy "specifying the semantic web by
> coincidence", the absence of design being an essential thrust 
> of Darwinism.
> Such a strategy reduces the probability of the building of 
> the semantic web
> in the near term considerably. Since we are dealing in the 
> realm of network
> systems, it should be clear that specs that are not widely 
> adopted have less
> value. 

As it happens, I only need to use RDF on *my* side to get *my* semantic
web (or a semantic web for the users of my system). You can use what you
want on your side - XLink, or whatever - and even refer to my
information, as I can refer to yours. If we both use RDF, even better.
But what I'm trying to argue is that it does NOT hold things up, as some
are suggesting. Just take as your starting point *lack of*
standardisation and get on with it. It's like we're all stood by the
side of the pool shivering, not wanting to dive in because it's cold.
Everyone is waiting for everyone else to jump in, but the pool isn't
going to get any warmer, so you may as well just accept it's cold and
jump in - regardless of what the others do.

Best regards,


PS Although some are using it, I don't think XLink is the right tool for
all this. RDF is much more compact and - amongst other things - has the
advantage of allowing schema information to be discovered at the point
of use, whereas XLink hard codes it. (I would look at transforming RDF
into a large set of XLinks dynamically, though, since XLink could do all
my lookups for me, in a nice standard way.) Just saying that in case
anyone thinks I'm equating XLink with RDF.

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