Tag Archives: rdf

what have the Romans ever Done For us?

Today I presented an internal seminar on RDF to the Bodleian Library developers, the first in a series of (hopefully) regular R&D meetings. This one was to provide a practical introduction to RDF to give us a baseline to build from when we start building models of our content (at least one Library project requires we generate RDF). I called it “what have the Romans ever Done For us?”:

The title is a line from the Monty Python film “The Life of Brian” and I chose it not just because I’ve been looking into Python (the language) but also because I can imagine a future where people ask “What has RDF ever done for us?” in a disgruntled way. In the film people suggest the Romans did quite a lot – bits of public infrastructure, like aqueducts and roads, alongside useful services like wine and medicine. I think RDF is a bit like that. Done well, it creates a solid infrastructure from which useful services will be built, but it is also likely to invisible, if not taken for granted, like sanitation and HTML. 🙂

The seminar itself seemed to go well – though you’d have to ask the attendees rather than the presenter to get the real story! We started with some slides that outlines the basics of RDF, using Dean Allemang & Jim Hendler’s nice method of distributing responsibility for tablular data and ending up at RDF (see pg. 32 onwards in the book Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist), and leapt straight in with LIBRIS (for example Neverwhere as RDF) as a case study. In the resultant discussion we looked at notation, RDFS, and linked data.

The final half of the seminar was a workshop in which we split into two groups: data providers and data consumers, and then considered what resources at the Bodleian might be suitable for publication as RDF (and linked data) and what services we might build using data from elsewhere.

The data providers discussed how there was probably quite a lot of resources in the Library that we could publish, or become the authority on – members of the University for example, or any of the many wonders we have in the collections. To make this manageable, it was felt it would be sensible to break this task up, probably by project. This would also allow for specific models to be identified and/or developed for each set of resources.

There was some concern among the providers regarding how to “sell” the benefits of RDF and linked data to management. The concerns paralleled what I imagine happened with the emergent Web. Is this kind of data publication giving away valuable information assets, for little or no return? At worst this leads people away from the Library to viewing and using information via aggregation services. Of course, there is a flip side to this argument. Serendipitous discovery of a Bodleian resource via a third-party is essentially free advertising and may drive users through our (virtual or real) door?

The consumers seemed realise early on that one of the big problems was the lack of usable data. Indeed, for the talk, I scoured datasets trying to find a decent match of data to augment Library catalogues and found it quite hard. That isn’t to say there is not a lot of data available (though of course there could be more), it is just without an application for it, shoehorning data into a novel use remains a novelty item. However, one possible example was the Legislation API. The group suggested that reviews from other sites could be used to augment Library catalogue results. They also suggested that the people data the Library published could be very useful and Monica talked about a suggestion she had heard at Dev8D for a developer expertise database (data Web?).

All in all lots of very useful discussion and I hope everyone went away with a good idea of what RDF was and what it might do for us and what we might do with it. There (justifiably) remains some scepticism, mostly because without the Web, linked data is simply data and we’ve all got our own neat ways to handle data already, be it a SQL database, XML & Solr, or whatever. Without the Web of Data the question “What do we gain?” remains.

It is a bit chicken and egg and the answer will eventually become clear as more and more people create machine processable data on the Web.

For the next meeting we’ll be modelling people. I’m going to bring the clay! 🙂

Slides and worksheets are available with the source open office documents also published on this (non-RDF) page!

-Peter Cliff

Wot I Lernd At DrupalCon

I spent last week in the lovely city of Copenhagen immersed in all things Drupal. It was a great experience, not just because of the city (so many happy cyclists!), but because I’d not seen a large scale Open Source project up close before and it is a very different and very interesting world!

I’m going to pick out some of my highlights here as to cover it all would take days, but if you want to know more I’d encourage you to check out the conference Web site and the presentation videos on archive.org.

So, wot did I lernd?

Drupal Does RDF
OK, so I knew that already, but I didn’t know that from Drupal 7 (release pending) RDF support will be part of the Drupal core, showing a fairly significant commitment in this area. Even better, there is an active Semantic Web Drupal group working on this stuff. While “linked data” remains something of an aside for us (99.9% of our materials will not make their way to the Web any time soon) the “x has relationship y with z” structure of RDF is still useful when building the BEAM interfaces – for example Item 10 is part of shelfmark MS Digital 01, etc. There is also no harm in trying to be future proof (assuming the Semantic Web is indeed the future of the Web! ;-)) for when the resources are released into the wild.

Projects like Islandora and discussions like this suggest growing utility in the use of Drupal as an aspect of an institutional repository, archives or even Library catalogues (this last one my (pxuxp) experiment with Drupal 6 and RDF).

Speaking of IRs…

Drupal Does Publishing
During his keynote, Dries Buytaert (the creator of Drupal) mentioned “distributions”. Much like Linux distributions, these are custom builds of Drupal for a particular market or function. (It is testament the software’s flexibility that this is possible!) Such distributions already exist and I attended a session on OpenPublish because I wondered what the interface would look like and also thought it might be handy if you wanted to build, for instance, an Open Access Journal over institutional repositories. Mix in the RDF mentioned above and you’ve a very attractive publishing platform indeed!

Another distro that might be of interest is OpenAtrium which bills itself as an Intranet in a Box.

Drupal Does Community
One of my motivations in attending the conference was to find out about Open Source development and communities. One of the talks was entitled “Come for the Software, Stay for the Community” and I think part of Drupal’s success is its drive to create and maintain a sharing culture – the code is GPL’d for example. It was a curious thing to arrive into this community, an outsider, and feel completely on the edge of it all. That said, I met some wonderful people, spent a productive day finding my way around the code at the “sprint” and think that a little effort to contribute will go a long way. This is a good opportunity to engage with a real life Open Source community. All I need to do is work out what I have to offer!

Drupal Needs to Get Old School
There were three keynotes in total, and the middle one was by Rasmus Lerdorf of PHP fame, scaring the Web designers in the audience with a technical performance analysis of the core Drupal code. I scribbled down the names of various debugging tools, but what struck me the most was the almost bewildered look on Rasmus’ face when considering that PHP had been used to build a full-scale Web platform. He even suggested at one point that parts of the Drupal core should be migrated to C rather than remain as “a PHP script”. There is something very cool about C. I should dig my old books out! 🙂

HTML5 is Here!
Jeremy Keith gave a wonderful keynote on HTML5, why it is like it is and what happened to xhtml 2.0. Parts were reminiscent of the RSS wars, but mostly I was impressed by the HTML 5 Design Principles which favour a working Web rather than a theoretically pure (XML-based) one. The talk is well worth a watch if you’re interested in such things and I felt reassured and inspired by the practical and pragmatic approach outlined. I can’t decide if I should start to implement HTML5 in our interface or not, but given that 5 is broadly compatible with the hotchpotch of HTMLs we all code in now, I suspect this migration will be gentle and as required rather than a brutal revolution.

Responsive Design
I often feel I’m a little slow at finding things out, but I don’t think I was the only person in the audience to have never heard about responsive Web design, though when you know what it is, it seems the most obvious thing in the world! The problem with the Web has long been the variation in technology used to render the HTML. Different browsers react differently and things can look very different on different hardware – from large desktop monitors, through smaller screens to phones. Adherence to standards like HTML5 and CSS3 will go a long way to solving the browser problem, but what of screen size? One way would be to create a site for each screen size. Another way would be to make a single design that scales well, so things like images disappear on narrower screens, multiple columns become one, etc.

Though not without its problems, this is the essence of responsive design and CSS3 makes it all possible. Still not sure what I’m on about? dconstruct was given as a good example. Using a standards compliant browser (ie. not IE! (yet)) shrink the browser window so it is quite narrow. See what happens? This kind of design, along with the underlying technology and frameworks, will be very useful to our interface so I probably need to look more into it. Currently we’re working with a screen size in mind (that of the reading room laptop) but being more flexible can only be a good thing!

There were so many more interesting things but I hope this has given you a flavour of what was a grand conference.

-Peter Cliff