Some questions

David Megginson david at
Wed Dec 1 21:44:49 GMT 1999

Tim Bray <tbray at> writes:

> And here is my attempt to explain why RDF hasn't been more successful:
>   The syntax is hideously ugly and hard to understand, and the spec worries
>   so hard about being correct and complete that it is pretty well 100%
>   incomprehensible to ordinary people.
> I probably just hurt some feelings, but I've already shouted this in private 
> enough times that it won't be a surprise.

I think Tim has shouted it in public as well.

It's a shame, because RDF is very nice for exchanging object-oriented
information among loosely-coupled systems, and there's some good Perl
and Java support for it already available (I'm sure the Python people
will get in there quickly).  

The problem is that the RDF-Syntax spec confounds even its bravest
readers by trying to do two things at once:

a) define a model and syntax for exchanging object-oriented
   information in XML; and

b) apply the model and syntax to the problem domain of representing
   knowledge about Web pages.

Neither of those two things is brain-dead simple, but either alone
could have been presented clearly and straight-forwardly to an
intelligent reader who knew the domain.  Let this be a warning to us
all to write our specs in clean, simple layers.

> In my opinion RDF needs some serious sugar-coating and tutorializing
> if it is ever going to achieve its potential.

And lots of software.

> I think its potential is huge, dwarfing that of XML.   -Tim

Agreed.  XML is just syntax, and as Tim (I think) has said, syntax is
boring: XML simply represents a low-level syntactic layer that we all
had to agree on and get out of the way so that we could move on to the
tasty stuff.  XML was never supposed to be the point of the whole
exercise, any more than IP or TCP was supposed to be the point of the
Internet or the Web.

RDF is much closer to that tasty stuff.  The ability to exchange
object-oriented information seemlessly among heterogenous systems is
very, very exciting -- it's something that CORBA promised and failed
to deliver outside the enterprise, and now RDF (and XML) can take a
shot at it.

All the best,


David Megginson                 david at

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