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That sigh in full

On his weblog today, Jon Udell talks about an email conversation we had, resulting from a sigh I uttered on IRC in response to a weblog article of his about FOAF.

As Jon's published an excerpt of my mail, I thought I may as well publish my response in full. The sigh Jon heard from around the world was a small expression of frustration that FOAF wasn't being evaluated in the light in which I saw it. Anyway, here it is, for the record.

The opening bit's a little cryptic: it is in response to Jon asking how FOAF should be perceived, as I had evidently expressed displeasure at his article.

danbri, as he goes on, is right. There's no "should", despite whatever intentions he may have had. Realistically there's only however it turns out. Because of the name Friend-of-a-friend, that's where the attention's gone to - the social networking side - and that's the basis on which it gets judged. In fact, FOAF's pretty darn weak on that front for various reasons that you allude to in quoting Weinberger. That's why FOAF only has "knows": it used to have more granularity until it was realised that there be dragons.

For me at least FOAF's point is as the personal homepage technology of the semantic web. Like we all made homepages back in 1995. In fact the links of significance in FOAF are the rdfs:seeAlso, not the foaf:knows bits: the dumb seeAlso is the parallel to the dumb a href="". (Except it turns out we can hang more information on a seeAlso.)

I don't agree with your assertion that Google's enough: there are many circumstances in which that isn't true. FOAF and other techs are useful in a lot of scenarios where we can and want to be more precise about making a link about our involvement with projects and people. This isn't always on the public web.

I am in broad agreement with your closing paragraphs in that entry: instrumenting our every day apps to tie us into the semantic web is what I want to see happen, however it's done.

So why my sigh? I guess I was reacting to FOAF being evaluated on terms that it wasn't originally aimed to meet. I have the same reaction to RSS being used for entire content, rather than metadata, syndication. But that's how things turn out, and frankly I oughtn't to make it my problem.

A sigh on IRC, expanded to its rather more wordy explanation.

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