Saturday, December 10, 2005

Emergent Semantics Principles and Issues 

Emergent Semantics Principles and Issues (PDF)
Information and communication infrastructures underwent
a rapid and extreme decentralization process over the past decade: From
a world of statically and partially connected central servers rose an intricate
web of millions of information sources loosely connecting one to
another. Today, we expect to witness the extension of this revolution
with the wide adoption of meta-data standards like RDF or OWL underpinning
the creation of a semantic web. Again, we hope for global
properties to emerge from a multiplicity of pair-wise, local interactions,
resulting eventually in a self-stabilizing semantic infrastructure. This paper
represents an effort to summarize the conditions under which this
revolution would take place as well as an attempt to underline its main
properties, limitations and possible applications."

Friday, December 09, 2005

The VO and the SW 

The VO and the SW: "What does an identifier identify?

This question is a fairly reliable way to start a fight, in the right company. Does an identifier identify a particular set of bytes, or might it represent only the current version of a resource, so that the contents returned when it is dereferenced (if indeed it ever is) could potentially change each time? Does a homepage URL refer to a person or to a web page? Are identifiers still useful (and not just in theory) if they are not dereferencable? Should identifiers have a `meaning', and if so, who gets to specify it? Is there an important practical difference between a locator (a URL) and an identifier (a URI)? Oh yes, and what about persistence?

While it's possible to have quite enjoyably sophisticated arguments about all of these questions, and to reasonably take all of the possible implied positions, and probably several of them simultaneously in different contexts, there is no consensus on any of them, and the only stable resolution is to avoid giving a technical answer to a fundamentally social problem. This position is blessed also in the recent Web Architecture document [std:webarch] (or rather, in the rdfURIMeaning-39 TAG `issue', related to the WebArch document), which seems to conclude that `meaning is use', and tries to leave it at that. Thus only the creator or owner of a binding (of identifier to resource) can identify the boundaries and invariants of the resource in question (Henry Thomson), and so if homepage URLs end up being used to identify people, then that is therefore what they mean."

The year of unique IDs 

JOHO - March 21, 2000: "When you have a large pile of stuff, you need a way to identify it. The more meaningful the names, the worse they scale. For example, if you want to make a photo of a rabbit findable by anyone across the Web, calling it 'rabbit' or even 'rabbit_305464' (because there were 305,463 rabbit photos posted before yours) may make it easier for English speakers to find it, but it makes it harder for those in other languages. Plus, while you think it is a photo of a rabbit, someone else may think it's a photo of a pet or dinner. A better solution is to take the semantics out of the identifier so that multiple semantics can be layered on top: 'Ah, you mean photo #F345A90875264D3425! The one that Deb Franklin calls 'Rabbit' and that Jean-Paul Lingerie calls 'Lapin.'' (Yes, the alpha characters imply a particular alphabet, which may be a problem.)

We could wait for authorities in each domain to issue the numbers, but we'll make more progress faster if we accept that multiple interest groups within a particular domain are going to issue UIDs."

Semantic Conceptions of Information 

Semantic Conceptions of Information: "Information is notoriously a polymorphic phenomenon and a polysemantic concept so, as an explicandum, it can be associated with several explanations, depending on the level of abstraction adopted and the cluster of requirements and desiderata orientating a theory. The reader may wish to keep this in mind while reading this entry, where some schematic simplifications and interpretative decisions will be inevitable. Claude E. Shannon, for one, was very cautious: “The word ‘information’ has been given different meanings by various writers in the general field of information theory. It is likely that at least a number of these will prove sufficiently useful in certain applications to deserve further study and permanent recognition. It is hardly to be expected that a single concept of information would satisfactorily account for the numerous possible applications of this general field. (italics added)” (Shannon [1993], p. 180). Thus, following Shannon, Weaver [1949] supported a tripartite analysis of information in terms of (1) technical problems concerning the quantification of information and dealt with by Shannon's theory; (2) semantic problems relating to meaning and truth; and (3) what he called “influential” problems concerning the impact and effectiveness of information on human behaviour, which he thought had to play an equally important role. And these are only two early examples of the problems raised by any analysis of information."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Identity, Reference, and the Web (IRW2006) Workshop 

Identity, Reference, and the Web (IRW2006) Workshop: "Goal and Theme:
Our goal for this workshop is to explore the nature of identification and reference on the Web, building on current work in Web Architecture, the Semantic Web and informal community-based tagging (folksonomy), as well as current practice in XML and theory in philosophy and linguistics. This workshop should bring together researchers and practitioners from a variety of backgrounds in order to discuss and clarify these issues.

URIs are the primary mechanism for reference and identity on the Web. To be useful, a URI must provide access to information which is sufficient to enable someone or something to uniquely identify a particular thing and the thing identified might vary between contexts. There is no doubt that as mechanisms for identifying web pages the URI has been wildly successful. Currently, URIs can also be used to identify namespaces, ontologies, and almost anything. However, important questions about the interpretation,use, and meaning of URIs have been left unanswered, questions that have important ramifications for everything from search engines to philosophy. As soon as matters get complicated, there is little or no consensus on issues of identification and reference on the Web. Put simply, given a URI, how should the nature of its intended referent be known in an interoperable and preferably automatic manner?

This is not an easy question to answer: for example, the Semantic Web and folksonomies present two distinctly differing viewpoints. On the Semantic Web a URI nominally identifies a single resource, while folksonomies rely on a more informal group consensus. Notions of identity will have even larger ramifications when privacy and trust become central issues for the Web. The management of this issue impacts practical issues of data integration on the Web and versioning and evolution for languages that use URIs, such as XML.

This workshop at WWW 2006 will offer an open forum to constructively discuss and make progress on these issues."

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