OASIS Mailing List ArchivesView the OASIS mailing list archive below
or browse/search using MarkMail.


Help: OASIS Mailing Lists Help | MarkMail Help



   local, global (was various ontology, RDF, topic maps)

[ Lists Home | Date Index | Thread Index ]
  • From: "Simon St.Laurent" <simonstl@simonstl.com>
  • To: xml-dev@lists.xml.org
  • Date: Wed, 20 Dec 2000 10:29:02 -0500

In all of this recent talk of creating ontologies, using schemas for
constraints, and creating large-scale distributed networks of commonly
understood information, I feel like we're seeing the usual formula of
'achieve agreement, implement everything according to that agreement, enjoy

There have been a few discordant notes - Uche Ogbuji notes that
multi-lingual understandings are very difficult, while Martin Bryan brings
up the changing classification of opium in medicine.  On the other hand,
there seems to be enthusiasm (both here and more strongly at XML 2000) for
universal ontologies as a whole, enthusiasm which I'm deeply uncertain is

Perhaps I'm merely cynical, having heard too many stories (supplemented by
my own limited experience) from the old warriors to have faith in
agreements in practice, and having enjoyed too much continental philosophy
to believe the Anglo-American dreams of logic and language providing us
with anything resembling a solid foundation.

While I think XML has a critical role to play in reducing the level of
agreement necessary for transactions inside of a community with
well-understood and thoroughly shared expectations about information, I
think a lot of the Semantic Web rhetoric (and even DTD and Schema rhetoric)
may actually be endangering that role by raising expectations
unrealistically, and by diverting resources into attempts to establish
broad global agreements rather than local ones.

Both global and local agreements work because the recipient of a message
has some idea what to do with that message.  While there are some cases
where we can predict in advance what messages should be sent to a given
recipient, how those messages should be composed, and how the recipient
should process those messages, I'd like to suggest that the interests of
message recipients (and senders) may have very little to do with the
visions of committees laying out inflexible architectures and vocabularies
before processing actually begins.  We might do well to focus on
flexibility rather than constraints, recognizing the importance of local
understandings for getting work done.

I'm very happy with a lot of the work I see in Topic Maps, RDF, schemas,
and other information modeling systems.  I'm deeply unhappy, however, with
the strange visions of a Grand Unified Information Model (GUIM) they seem
to produce in some people.  I'd like to take something of an Extreme
Programming view on this project, evolving vocabularies and architectures
from pieces which we can make work today without nearly as much concern for
the larger vision set forth in the various requirements of the GUIM.  I
don't think it will lead us directly to the GUIM, but it might let us get
more work done in the meantime.

Developing standards which work locally seems like enough of a challenge,
and developing standards which work globally seems like a project better
left for future development, after we've figured out what might make sense
in the less costly though perhaps less-inspiring world of local
communications and understandings.  Perhaps that way we can dwell less upon
the credentials of those who create our toolkits and more upon the task of
creating our projects ourselves.

Simon St.Laurent
XML Elements of Style / XML: A Primer, 2nd Ed.
XHTML: Migrating Toward XML
http://www.simonstl.com - XML essays and books


News | XML in Industry | Calendar | XML Registry
Marketplace | Resources | MyXML.org | Sponsors | Privacy Statement

Copyright 2001 XML.org. This site is hosted by OASIS