Collisions, Chimera and Consonance in Web Content


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Four formats wrestle with each other for web glory. By their acronyms we shall know them: HTML, XML, JSON, RDF. Sometimes they clash, and sometimes they merge, forming weird and wonderful hybrids. Is there any way for them to work together? I will talk about the problems of mixing models and describe how we are using these formats together in

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Collisions, Chimera and Consonance in Web Content

  1. 1. Collisions, Chimera and Consonance in Web Content Jeni TennisonSunday, 5 February 12Suggested talking about microdata & RDFa, or about my work on, got thereply "yes, all of that!" Kinda hard to see how to bring them together, so Ive had to go large-scale...
  2. 2. what is the web? hypermedia = HTML from believekevinSunday, 5 February 12In the beginning, the web was about hypertext, and shortly afterwards hypermedia: individualpages of simple content whose revolutionary power was not a powerful, well-thought-out,semantic document structure, but the fact they contained links.
  3. 3. what is the web? structured documents = XML from Marcus HanssonSunday, 5 February 12People with SGML experience thought that the web could provide even more value if it wasnot limited to a single, not particularly meaningful, language. This led to the birth andenergetic childhood of XML, one spent doing everything it could possibly do and more.
  4. 4. what is the web? (meta)data = RDF from Alex E. ProimosSunday, 5 February 12Around the same time, others had the notion that the web was not just for providingdocuments, but for providing metadata about those documents, and data about things likepeople and traffic and buildings, which gave us RDF and another stack of technologies.
  5. 5. what is the web? applications = JSONSunday, 5 February 12Meanwhile computers got faster and web sites became about providing valuable services totheir users rather than access to either documents or data. The focus of web sites turned tointeraction, and to applications. Concise, application-specific messages, easy to use withJavascript, meant JSON.
  6. 6. HTML JSON XML RDF four formats different answersSunday, 5 February 12So we have ended up with four formats with which you can deliver content on the web, eacharising from a different view of what the web is.
  7. 7. lingua franca application-native data HTML JSON concise hard to get wrong single source format web-native data XML RDF flexible graph model each format has strengths and weaknessesSunday, 5 February 12Each format has advantages, and so each looks at others advantages jealously:HTMLs ubiquityXMLs flexibility and ease of parsingRDFs reach to a real-worldJSONs practicalityOne result is ghettoisation: "you should not exist! you have no point! I am all thats needed!"Another result is self-doubt: "what am I here for? what should I be?"
  8. 8. I wanna be like you ... or you should be more like meSunday, 5 February 12Another result is merged technologies: ones that seek to gain the benefits of two or moreformats."If we make RDF more like HTML, perhaps people will use it""If you turned that crappy JSON into XML, perhaps I might use it"
  9. 9. HTML microdata JSON XHTML RDFa JSON-LD XML RDF/XML RDF hybrid technologies chimeraSunday, 5 February 12These hybrid technologies are chimera, constructed from constituent parts of two or moretechnologies.How people judge chimera depends on their background and experience with thetechnologies that have been merged.
  10. 10. looks a bit stupid but its cute underneathSunday, 5 February 12
  11. 11. you can put lipstick on a pig but its still a pigSunday, 5 February 12
  12. 12. serendipity something new and wonderfulSunday, 5 February 12Sometimes, of course, you might get something wonderful and new in its own right.Like XSLT! :)
  13. 13. chimera are usually ugly foolish or impossible fantasiesSunday, 5 February 12The original Chimera was a monster made from a lion, goat and snake.The term now means a foolish or impossible fantasy.Trouble with chimera is that when you dress up one format as another, the result seldom hasthe advantages of either. To pick the worst offender, RDF/XML is a horrible way to expressRDF, because URLs arent native in XML, and a horrible pattern for XML because its variabilitymakes it difficult to process with XML tools.
  14. 14. are chimera the only approach?Sunday, 5 February 12Are these hybrid technologies the only way of gaining the advantages that the different coretechnologies offer?
  15. 15. being different is fine if you can work togetherSunday, 5 February 12Or should we think of these four technologies as being like the members of the A-Team? (Imnot going to say which I think is who, except RDF is obviously Murdock.)What does that mean? - recognise and appreciate their respective strengths and weaknesses; dont try to make onedo what another can do better - also understand their similarities: a common language, a common goal
  16. 16. access and interactionSunday, 5 February 12Public built on XML stack: MarkLogic database, Orbeon pipelines & XSLT,producing HTML or XHTML.Now working on editorial site to enable experts to help government team get and keeplegislation up to date. New requirements: - flexibility in expressing & querying data about relationships between parts of legislation:we need RDF - dynamic and interactive site that supports a task: we need JSONBut we dont need chimera: we need JSON designed for JSON, and RDF as RDF, and XML asXML.
  17. 17. leaves and branches named with URLsSunday, 5 February 12What enables them to work together well is what the web really is: URLs that name andaddress resources.URLs enable hand-off. When XML structures are named with URLs, JSON and RDF can point todocument content stored in XML. They provide a common reference point, a commonlanguage.
  18. 18. HTML JSON URLs XML RDF consonance through URLs weak, flexible linksSunday, 5 February 12URLs that address structures within formats help those formats to be used together. They canbe used for their strengths, without being compromised.
  19. 19. languages data types URLs link relations content types common micro-syntaxes consonanceSunday, 5 February 12URLs are one example of a common language or micro-syntax, used within the coretechnologies.The formats have problems working together when these common languages are not reallycommon. - URLs in HTML != IRIs used in XML or RDF - datatypes in HTML != those defined in XML Schema != those used in RDF (particularlydate/times) - link relations in HTML != those used in Atom != those used in RDFaThese mismatches cause friction, and the most gnarly problems in dealing with microdataand RDFa differences are caused by them. But then, no team is perfect.
  20. 20. closing thoughtsSunday, 5 February 12Strong theme of this conference is reflecting on the role of XML on the web.XML had a over-achieving youth, where it thought it could do everything, and the realisationit cant is perhaps a little painful.We are right to reflect on where we are, and what we want to become.
  21. 21. the web is varied complex, dynamic, beautifulSunday, 5 February 12A monoculture web would not survive. The web thrives because it is a diverse ecosystem,hosting 800lb gorillas and tiny mice with long long tails.
  22. 22. so much beneath the crust core qualities != surface qualitiesSunday, 5 February 12The web is also more than what you see, and its a mistake to think that only the outwardlyvisible parts matter. Without the structures below the crust, it would implode.Assess XMLs role in that context.
  23. 23. what changes make sense? chimera or consonance from Randy ReadSunday, 5 February 12Another theme here is XMLs relationship with other technologies, the use of XMLtechnologies with non-XML formats and how XML might change in the future.We should be asking: - are these chimera? are they beautiful new things, or pigs in lipstick? - do these changes make it XML better at what it does, or not as bad at doing whatsomething else already does better? - does this help XML work better in concert with other technologies?XML will not improve by trying to be someone else, but by working better in the team of webtechnologies: by doing its job well, and by communicating well with the others.
  24. 24. thank youSunday, 5 February 12