[microformats-discuss] Microformats and the Semantic Web

Tantek Ç elik tantek at cs.stanford.edu
Mon Aug 8 10:37:05 PDT 2005

Danny has been looking at the issues of microformats vs. RDF or microformats
and RDF for quite some time, and his conclusions are the result of a lot of
analysis and dialogs.  Behind many of his points, you could probably write
many paragraphs.

On 8/8/05 10:06 AM, "Danny Ayers" <danny.ayers at gmail.com> wrote:

> [Apologies for the delayed response - I'm suffering overactive mail filters
> ;-)]
> On 7/19/05, Brian Suda <brian.suda at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Since this is the Discussion list, i would like to pose this question
>> to see what everyone else thinks. We are all interested in
>> Microformats, so we are probably biased, but as a community we should
>> open this discussion.
>> Q: In what way do Microformats help advance the idea of the Semantic
>> Web, or do they at all?
> Whether or not they advance the idea is a good question, but in a very
> real sense microformats are part of the Semantic Web. For a start, the
> Semantic Web is layered on URIs, HTTP, XML and Unicode, the same basic
> constituents of microformats. The next layer up of the cake [1] is the
> Resource Description Framework. The explicit markup of microformats
> describes resources, and the use of XHTML profiles means that any
> microformat can potentially be unambiguously interpreted in the RDF
> model (the most straightforward way being through XSLT). As far as a
> suitably-equipped tool is concerned a microformat doc *is* RDF.

This is essentially what about 50% of the "Semantic Web" crowd at WWW2005
concluded as well.  That there is no need to "scrape" or "convert"
microformats.  That someone who knows what they are doing with RDF can
simply directly *read* microformats and process them accordingly.  Thus they
see the emergence of microformats both as concept, and in implementation on
the Web, as benefiting their notion of a Semantic Web.

The other half of the Semantic Web crowd at WWW2005 was very dismissive,
with statements like, we don't need microformats, microformats are a
distraction, microformats won't work, microformats aren't rich enough, and
everyone should just be using RDF.  Essentially, the "we've thought about
this a lot longer than you, so you don't know what you're doing" argument.

This "schism" surprised me quite a bit, because once it became clear,
instead of myself (and the other microformats presenters) having to explain
microformats to the Semantic Web dominated crowd, these two halves began to
openly argue with each other.  It was a very strange transition to watch.

Needless to say, I take the former position, with the additional statement
that microformats are easier to both define, deploy, and *present* on
today's Web, thus, given equivalent semantics, it makes more sense to
publish microformatted data rather than RDF/XML on the Web.

What data model and data structures you use *inside* any particular
application should be determined by whatever is most efficient for you the
developer.  If for you, that's RDF that's fine, if that's C structs that's
fine, If that's a relational database, that's fine too.  No need to argue
about which *internal* representation is better, just use the one you think
will best help you get your job done.

>> I know there has been alot of talk about the lower-case semantic web
>> and how you use semantic mark-up in microformats, but how, or does,
>> this effect the BIG Semantic Web?
>> And i guess in the discussion, we should describe what the "BIG SW"
>> and "little sw" mean to each of us.
>> I have my own opinions, but don't want to say now incase it leads the
>> discussion too much.
> For myself, the essence of the Semantic Web idea is having first class
> data being made explicit, so the Web can act as a general-purpose
> database as well as a document repository. As far as I can tell,
> that's the same as the lower-case version.

And, as Danny's next message pointed out, perhaps one of the fine
distinctions of the lowercase semantic web over the Uppercase Semantic Web
is that microformats believe that the data in that existing document
repository can be made explicit, rather than publishing a separate
general-purpose database.

This focus on existing data, and thus the lowering / minimizing of barriers
to re-using it, IMHO is one of the key distinguishing principles of
microformats over the Semantic Web, both in theory (the microformat
principles), and in practice (the process for defining microformats, based
on existing *visible* data on *today's Web* and existing schemas both
implied and explicit).

> Where there may be a
> difference is that the Semantic Web in the sense of the W3C initiative
> is backed by a logical formalism and Web-global data model (RDF).

Which some folks see as a foundation, and others as a barrier.

Microformats essentially ask:

Can we do more (practical use and applications)
with less (logical formalism, formats, namespaces, etc.)?



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