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Re: [ontolog-forum] Semantic Web shortcomings [was Re: ANN: GoodRelation

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 2008 15:50:38 -0400
Message-id: <48AB240E.8020307@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Pat, Ron, and Sean,    (01)

There are complex issues involved, and single words like 'foundation'
or 'framework' can't convey all of them and enable everybody to
interpret them in consistent ways.  As we have seen from various
emails, there are as many different interpretations of anything as
there are people who post messages to this list.    (02)

RW>> Who gets to define the medical ontology - drug companies, medical
 >> equipment companies, HMOs, hospitals, WHO, etc.?    (03)

PC> Any member of the project who is interested.  Membership in any
 > working group should be fully open - no one can feel 'left out'
 > of anything.    (04)

There is a difference between being "fully open" and letting every
possible proposal develop independently.  There will always be
conflicts, and every committee needs a method for resolving them.
Many groups that produce standards and recommendations are open
in the sense that anybody can submit a proposal or comment on it.
But there have to be tight controls over the voting and approval
procedures for choosing among the various proposals.    (05)

Furthermore, as I pointed out in previous notes, the best standards
usually evolve from well-designed systems that were implemented
by small groups.  Some of those systems might be developed by a
commercial group (such as FORTRAN from IBM) and others might be
developed by several institutions with government funding (such
as the original ARPANET protocols, which became the basis for the
Internet).    (06)

RW> You are describing an open source project where each member "who
 > is interested" puts in his/her 2 cents and the core group decides
 > what gets committed.  This is difficult to fund with taxpayers'
 > money since there is no one who can be held accountable and no
 > organization who can commit to delivering a pre-defined deliverable.    (07)

Consider the development of the original WWW.  The foundation was
ARPANET, which went through a long development as a DoD sponsored
project before a movement started to open it up (with legislation
sponsored by Al Gore), and it became the Internet.  Then a small
group with funding from European governments started a project to
facilitate communication among physics projects around the world.
That became the original WWW, which was text based.    (08)

Then some people at the U. of Illinois started a small project
called Mosaic, which got some gov't funding, and provided an
interface that supported graphics.  The WWW guys adopted a
previous ISO standard called SGML (which evolved from a 1969
project at IBM called GML) and they called it HTML.  The Mosaic
guys added more features to HTML to support graphics.  Later
they developed a commercial version called Netscape, which was
so popular that it established a de facto standard for HTML.    (09)

Similar things have been happening with the Semantic Web.
Cyc received a great deal of funding from the gov't for their
language called CycL.  A former associate director of Cyc,
named Ramanathan Guha, left Cyc and worked at a couple of
places, including Apple, where he proposed a much simpler
notation.  Then Guha teamed up with Tim Bray to design a
version of Guha's simple notation in XML, and they called it
RDF.  But as Bray later pointed out, the initial version of
RDF was badly designed, and he recommended a cleaner version:    (010)

    http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2003/05/21/RDFNet    (011)

However, too many people had vested interests in the early
version, and they resisted attempts to revise it.    (012)

Note that the WWW took a long time to evolve, and the basic
standards that support it evolved from two totally different
projects in the late 1960s:  ARPANET sponsored by DoD and
GML by a group of 3 guys at IBM.  GML became SGML primarily
because of the persistence of the man who was the G in GML:
Charlie Goldfarb.  The idea of hypertext was also proposed
in the 1960s by Ted Nelson, and versions of it were implemented
by various groups, including Apple.    (013)

But the WWW was not developed by IBM or Apple or DoD, and the
people who had the original ideas, Nelson and Goldfarb, were not
involved.  Instead, it was done by a tiny group in Switzerland
at a physics lab called CERN.  The group that contributed as much
or more to the "look and feel" of what most people call the WWW
were the Mosaic group in Illinois and their commercial version
called Netscape, which eventually lost out to a another browser,
also based on Mosaic, but which had a bigger monopoly behind it.    (014)

SB> can you coherently claim that everything can be described in
 > a few thousand fundamental concepts, since what distinguishes
 > them is a language game?    (015)

I would say that the necessary number of defining concepts is either
0 or infinity.  If you choose 0, all concepts (or predicates) are
defined implicitly by axioms.  If you choose explicit definitions,
then any positive integer is an inadequate approximation to infinity.    (016)

John Sowa    (017)

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