Exhaustion with RDF

This is probably a familiar story to many of you who have been around a while, but I’ve lost a lot of my interest in working with the Semantic Web lately, and I don’t see it coming back anytime in the near future. For those of who are waiting on action items from me, I recommend removing them from my plate and putting them somewhere else where they are more likely to be taken care of.

There’s a few reasons for this. One is simply a lack of time: I’ve been working 14 hour days for the past two weeks at work, and that’s probably not going to change in the near future. Combine that with the fact that I need to do job searching as well, since we’ll be moving to Cambridge soon, and you’ve got an extreme amount of time going out the door to projects that aren’t my own.

Another is frustration with evangalizing being part of the process of proceeding in the Semantic Web world. Every time I take a step forward with some code, I find another 5 steps I have to take back in order to defend my position and the way I’ve done it. After doing this repeatedly for several months now, I’m growing tired of always having to spend more than half of my time fighting to defend the way I’ve created a certain project, rather than soliciting patches or getting help from the community.

Another is the lack of widespread support from the powers that could help move the RDF and Semantic Web movement forward. It would be relatively simple for something like IMDb to open up its database in an RDF format. This would allow for a widespread rating system to be created based around the datat that IMDb provides, allowing for a way for distributing information about movies that could be useful in a number of ways. Similarly for Netflix. Similarly for a half dozen other sites out there – but it never happens. Instead, they stick to their proprietary information, keeping everything internal. While this may generate more income for them, it hardly represents any interest in interacting with the community, which is what the Semantic Web needs in order to accelerate adoption.

I’ve had relatively little feedback on the projects I have put together. Things like rdfgpg, redlandbot, etc. all get left in the dust of the work of larger groups of people, with more impressive results (and rightly so). Nothing I’m doing is particularly innovative or interesting, and it shows in the response from the community.

There is much more motivation for people behind things like microformats – something that’s close to RDF, but far enough away (and unlikely to see transformation to it) that it seems pointless. People are trying to create all these tools that take advantage of the small-s semantic web, but not taking the one extra step needed – via GRDDL, profiles, whatever. They think they’re writing the new version of the SemWeb, when in reality, they’re just creating an incomplete imitation.

I suppose at some point, people will start to come around. The world of RDF is powerful. The world of HTML is not. Trying to create semantics out of a language that has none will not work in the long run. For right now, however, people are convinced it will, and that leaves most of the work I’ve done behind as people hop onto the next bandwagon.

I’m going to try and clean up some of the code I have, document it fully, and get licenses attached to it, so that people who want to use it or maintain it can take it up. This is especially true for Julie, which is kind of my pride and joy as far as code goes.

I typically move my interests in about 6 month cycles, so I may eventually swing back towards semantic web development. For now, however, I’m going to do my best to wrap things up, and move onto something different, where I don’t have to fight every step of the way to get things that I do acknowledged.

9 Responses to “Exhaustion with RDF”

  1. Christoph Gรถrn Says:

    Heya, hope you find the time to play arround in any topic… your Python/Nokia hacks have always been interessting too ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck finding a job and doing the move. [GNU]

  2. Benjamin Nowack Says:

    Yeah, I know what you mean, Chris. Even from RDFers you usually don’t get much feedback. Maybe working with RDF requires too much focus and swapping in of so many specs that noone is still able to look at other people’s stuff ๐Ÿ˜‰
    (Not that I’m a fan of Flash anymore, but I remember when it was new, no matter how simple a movie was, you could be sure that almost every Flasher had a look at it and if something was cool, it was spread in hours.)
    Unfortunately, semantics aren’t that obvious, it’ll take more time to promote their utility (maybe more time -and thus money- than I can spend myself).
    However, you’ve done lots of cool SemWeb stuff, and you’ve also shown that great apps can already be created by utilizing existing toolkits. I hope you’ll find time and motivation to continue working on RDF tech again. We’re all quite early in the game, but I still hope it’ll pay off..
    And good luck for the job seek, hey, maybe it’s going to be a Semantic Web start-up.. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Rich Says:

    Wow, that sounded despondent.

    I do get what you’re saying, though โ€” things can be quite demotivating at times, and it’s disheartening to see people just not getting it, so you feel as if you’re talking to a brick wall.

    Sometimes I feel like going to write an app in Java, using databases and XML, just like everyone else.

    I wouldn’t say that what you do isn’t interesting โ€” you’re doing front-line coding, and that has just as much value as academic projects. After all, it’s pushing triples around that’s important in the long runโ€ฆ

    Take a break. You do sound like you need one.

  4. Danny Says:

    I’ll try and respond more fully later, but quick comments: if you feel like a break, almost certainly the best thing to do is have one. (14 hour work days? You probably need a break there too!)

    re. “Nothing Iโ€™m doing is particularly innovative or interesting” – nothing could be farther from the truth!! You’ve been continually making interesting use of the technologies. The word “innovation” isn’t very good when one is building on a stack, but in this space any implementation is innovation – and you’ve done plenty of that.

  5. Shelley Says:

    Ouch, I hear you. I think we’re not particularly good about encouraging each other in our work–especially in the US. This is particularly noticeable when compared with all the hooplah and excitement and jumping up and down associated with microformats. But you know, microformats can only go so far; the proponents have to jump up and down, the technology certainly doesn’t.

    As for the RDF work, yes, the spotlight falls on the academics. But it is the work of the small groups or the individual, out in the field, that will make a difference. I really liked what Rich said: it is the pushing triples around in the long run that will crack open doors.

    Hang in, enjoy your break, and good luck with your job hunt.

  6. kasei Says:

    Your work in this space has been tremendous. It’s been great watching you tear through some of these projects… often awe-inspiring how you pull together a bunch of code and functionality and get something that just works. Anyway, I hope you find something truly enjoyable to spend your time on, and hope you’ll come back to RDF at some point.

    And when you move to Cambridge, it’d be great to hear from you, and possibly meet up some time. I’m in Providence now, but find myself in So. Mass. on a regular basis, so not too far from the Boston area.

    Best of luck!

  7. karl Says:

    I wonder if there could be a way to convince IMDB to open up a bit more ala BBC, Google, Flickr, Amazon.

    code.imdb.com would be a good idea.

    And they could benefit of the support of the community, maybe that would be worthwhile to try to convince them.

  8. Ryan Hayes Says:

    I think this may be a good thing. Case and point: Glenn Gould recorded J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” in 1955, then 26 yrs. later in 1981 Glenn recorded them again, with surprising results. Sometimes you have to take a break and when you’re ready revisit material. Outside inspiration will help.

  9. Phil Wilson Says:

    You’ve been a great source of inspiration for just getting stuff working (your nokia/python work in particular has been great); take a break and just do what makes you happy.

    In other news, at Open Tech 2005 an Amazon representative said that they’d be opening up IMDB with an API in the near future, so something to watch there.