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Re: [ontolog-forum] N3+, an N3-variant for units

To: Joel Bender <jjb5@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 20 Mar 2009 13:10:34 -0400
Message-id: <49C3CE0A.3020806@xxxxxxxx>
Joel Bender wrote:    (01)

> If they consider the concept of a metre to be the intellectual property 
> of the ITU-T     (02)

The definition of the metre is a matter of international treaty (the 
Convention du Mètre (1875) and its subsequent revisions), and the 
maintenance of the International System of Units was assigned to the 
BIPM (www.bipm.org) in 1972.  While the ISO publications (ISO 31 and ISO 
1000) still cost money, the complete current technical specification 
(the SI Brochure) is available in PDF for free from the BIPM website.    (03)

ITU-T, the Technical Committee of the International Telecommunications 
Union (the telephone and telegraph standards organization), another 
treaty organization, standardized a URI-like scheme for international 
identifiers of arbitrary objects back in 1980, based on sequences of 
assigned integer values identifying directories and sub-directories. 
Its use was required in wide-area networks of the 1980s and 1990s, and 
they created a URN version of it in the late 1990s -- IETF RFC 3061. 
And since the OID top-directory 1 is ISO, they figured ISO could and 
should use urn:oid: to do their thing, even it made 'metre' = 
urn:oid:  In their text form, this reads:
  {iso(1) standard(0) 31 part(0) version(8) element(4) definition(2) 
clause(3) metre(26)}
But since all their software sends on the wire is the integers, which 
are all that is required to be unique, clearly the URI need not contain 
any of the terms.  The ISO Central Secretariat preferred something that 
humans could read and translate to an ISO URL.    (04)

> and they are using "urn:" URIs because they *don't* want a 
> web accessible, unencumbered definition, then I would warn them that 
> where there is a need, somebody will fill it, and they will have simply 
> cut themselves out of the semantic web.    (05)

Please don't jump to such conclusions.  The same can be said of Springer 
Verlag and Wiley and other publishers, who undoubtedly produce the 
journals in which you hope to publish as a means of enhancing your 
academic career.  Will you and your tenure committee happily see them 
die as well?    (06)

The ISO was created some 50 years ago and is funded by a system of 
National Body contributions and revenue from what were originally paper 
standards publications for which ISO was the publisher and needed to 
recoup the _proportional_ publication costs and a relatively fixed 
administrative cost.  Like any publishing house, they protect their 
copyrights, and their revenue stream.    (07)

The problem they now face is that the paper standards cost has not quite 
gone away, because some of the standards are only gradually acquiring 
electonic forms, and they now have an additional "relatively fixed" 
administrative cost in managing the website.  That is, they are now 
maintaining two publication systems, with a higher proportion of 
overhead to revenue on the paper side.  The website provides:
  - the repository for, and open access to, the "publicly available 
standards" (those that are free downloads)
  - the catalog sales point for the ISO publications
  - administrative supporting services for the standards development bodies    (08)

To change the funding model, the member bodies would have to re-charter 
the organization.  Other software standards bodies, e.g., W3C, OMG, 
OASIS, have different mechanisms that enable them to publish their 
standards on the Web, and they see that as a requirement for adoption in 
their discipline.  But IT software is a small fraction of the ISO 
domain.  Automotive engineering and refrigeration engineering and 
materials management and healthcare and construction and public safety 
standards organizations, not to mention the IEEE, all have different 
funding and publication models, and many of them are currently suffering 
from similar arrangements.    (09)

The Web is an enabler for users, but it is an economic disruptor for 
these organizations.  And ISO itself is an international organization of 
standards organizations.  Walk a mile in their shoes before you judge them.    (010)

For the record, all of the ISO publications that are freely available 
are IT standards:
  http://standards.iso.org/ittf/PubliclyAvailableStandards    (011)

The reason why ISO wanted a URN is twofold:
  - some of the standards are not yet available in electronic form, and 
all the others are available in both paper and electronic form.  The 
idea was to have a uniform means of referring to the standards (and 
their parts) without regard to whether there was a web resource.
  - ISO has co-publishing arrangements with other bodies, usually the 
originating organizations.  So there may be several Web URLs from which 
you could acquire the standard, but there should be only one URI that is 
its official identifier, so that references can be tested for equal. 
The idea was that the URN can be recognized as the reference URI at a 
glance, while any other URI is probably a resource locator.    (012)

We don't need to repeat the urn: v. http: debate, because W3C and IETF 
have been having it for a few years, and Pat Hayes and I are on opposite 
sides.  A large part of standards-making is politics and religion. ;-)    (013)

> I would be just as happy with a "http://unitsml.nist.gov/"; prefix, or a 
> "http://www.bipm.org/vim/"; one.    (014)

I wouldn't know about either.  Bob Dragoset (dragoset at nist.gov) -- 
the human form of unitsml.nist.gov -- would probably know what there is 
to know.    (015)

-Ed    (016)

P.S. Yes, this stuff is my job.    (017)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                        Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Manufacturing Systems Integration Division
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263                Tel: +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263                FAX: +1 301-975-4694    (018)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (019)

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