Erewhon workshop

December 15, 2008

On Friday December 5th we held our first Erewhon workshop — an opportunity for us to tell people about the aims of the project, get their feedback on some of our initial ideas, and give them a chance to make suggestions of their own. Despite a few last-minute cancellations we still had about 40 attendees (staff and students) — not a bad turnout for the last day of term!

The first half of the workshop was all about ‘setting the scene’, showing the technological landscape we’re working in. Tim started this off with a lively overview of the capabilities of smartphones, with demonstrations of a wide variety of tools on the iPhone, the G1 and the HTC TyTN — the aim being to show people just how much functionality is already available and in use now (and, by extension, what imagined possibilities might be reality by this time next year…). We wanted to make it clear that we’re not just talking about browsing the web on a small screen; we’re talking about the phone as a platform and an interface in its own right.

From the technological landscape we moved to the physical landscape, and our attempts to map it; I gave an overview of the work we’d done so far on ‘OxPoints’ (the original name for our fledgling geo database), the data we’d amassed, the simple services already available making use of that data (more about that on the handout — see link below), and the direction the new data model was taking; building on this, Sebastian then talked about some of the more exciting future possibilities for mapping, creating visualisations, and enhancing existing services.

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RDF – an Introduction

November 26, 2008

After deciding to implement the new OxPoints system with Semantic Web technologies (see OxPoints and the Semantic Web) I started to read up on all I could find on RDF (Resource Description Framework) and related technologies like RDFS and OWL. In particular I was looking for

  • specifications,
  • best practices and
  • reports on projects using RDF.

I was astonished to find that, even though many people talk about RDF, it seems that only very few have actually ever used it (i.e. outside academic studies). Or if they have, they at least did not tell anyone about it.
However, one thing, that I did definitely not expect to find was that there seems to be a fundamental design flaw in RDF. I thought about this a lot, and hope that by blogging about it, you will either tell me, that I am wrong and how to do it right, or that we might find a solution on how to solve the problem.

But before talking about what I think is wrong with RDF and proposing one way to solve that problem (yes, luckily I think there is a solution), we need to establish a common language, which is what I want to achieve with this introduction. If you are already familiar with RDF, you might want to have a look at the sections: Triples are Facts, Reification and Entailment. If you are new to RDF, I hope that this will give you a first start. However, I kept this introduction very short and so many aspects are missing. If you want to learn more about RDF I would recommend you to start with the RDF Primer, the introduction to RDF from the W3C. In most sections I have also linked the specific sections from the RDF Specifications.

I will try to assume as little previous knowledge as possible, but since RDF is not a trivial topic, I have to start somewhere. Basic knowledge of XML and some knowledge of mathematical notation would therefore probably be of help.

RDF (Resource Description Framework)

The Resource Description Framework (or short RDF) is a set of W3C specifications which were first published in 1999 and revised in 2004 (more information on the history of RDF can be found at its Wikipedia page or at the W3C pages on RDF). RDF is “a language for representing information about resources in the World Wide Web” (RDF Primer [http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-rdf-syntax/]).

So what are resources in the World Wide Web?

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