RDF and the Department of Redundancy Department

InformationWeek recently published my article, Semantic Web Business: Going Nowhere Slowly. I wrote, “The SemWeb dream centers on sharing linked data via the W3C’s Resource Description Framework protocol,” which elicited a tweet, “#RDF (Resource Description Framework) isn’t a protocol. As its name implies: it’s a Framework.”

Uh, yeah, I could’ve written “via the W3C’s Resource Description Framework framework.” That would’ve been like writing “ATM machine” or (double fault) “sandwich with au jus sauce,” a redundant repetition. (ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine, and the French au jus means “with [its own] juice.”) I’m not into redundancy, so I say lay off.

But is my characterization of RDF as a “protocol” wrong? Obviously I don’t think so. To me, a protocol is a specification or mechanism meant to guide collaborative work. (I made that definition up on the spot.) But to others, what is RDF anyway? I did some quick research using the world’s favorite research tool, Google, and learned that RDF is…

  • An official recommendation. (Wikipedia disambiguation page: “Resource Description Framework, an official W3C Recommendation for Semantic Web data models.)
  • A family of specifications. (Wikipedia: “The Resource Description Framework (RDF) is a family of World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specifications.”)
  • A (single) specification. (Mozilla.org: “RDF is a W3C specification, and is their recommended technology for (meta)data interchange on the Web.”)
  • A technology. (See above, and Kingsley Idehen: “RDF is a very misunderstood and poorly promoted technology (long story!)”
  • A standard data model. (W3C: “RDF is a standard model for data interchange on the Web.”)
  • An encoding standard. (rdf:about: “This is an introduction to RDF (‘Resource Description Framework’), which is the standard for encoding metadata and other knowledge on the Semantic Web.”)
  • [Just] a standard. (Arto Bendiken: “RDF is a W3C standard for modeling and sharing distributed knowledge based on a decentralized open-world assumption.”)
  • A method for expressing knowledge. (rdf:about: “RDF is a method for expressing knowledge in a decentralized world and is the foundation of the Semantic Web.”)
  • A structure. (O’Reilly: “The Resource Description Framework (RDF) is a structure for describing and interchanging metadata on the Web.”)
  • An infrastructure. (Eric Miller: “The Resource Description Framework (RDF) is an infrastructure that enables the encoding, exchange and reuse of structured metadata.”)

Sadly for me, Google turned up only three exact matches on “RDF is a protocol.” I concede. My description of RDF was… unusual. Perhaps I should have written, “the Resource Description Framework is a framework.” I promise that next time, when I mention RDF again, subsequently, down the line, in the future, I’ll be more careful of precedent. Meanwhile, I urge the rest of you, other than my tweeting correspondent, not to get hung up on pointless corrections.

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