1896: The Year We Did Linked Data Right

“The system of expressing propositions which is called Existential Graphs was invented by me late in the year 1896, as an improvement upon another system published in the Monist for January 1897.”

-Charles Peirce 1906

If you didn’t attend this year’s International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC 2009) the good news is that you now have the chance to see the Pat Hayes invited keynote called BLOGIC or Now What’s in a Link?.

Pat Hayes ISWC Keynote, Blogic: Now What's in a Link

Pat’s keynote is a must watch video. His keen insights into Web Portability, Names and Identification, the Horatio Principle, SameAs and Death by Layering will shape the future of the Web for the better. After Pat’s talk I had the pleasure of speaking with Dame Wendy Hall and Wendy believed Pat’s talk was precisely what Web Science is about.

In this post I won’t reiterate the main points of Pat’s talk. Be sure to watch the video. Regular readers on The Phaneron will recognize similar points already made here over the past few years. I will take the opportunity to elaborate on what I believe to be a few important lessons from Pat’s talk that are revealed through his incidental comments. These incidental comments speak volumes about what many of us experience throughout our careers whether in the workplace or working with standards organizations.

The lessons are these:

  1. The question we’re asking has, in some surprising cases, already been answered. As computer scientists we have little opportunity to dedicate the time required to study the important work of the giants that came before us. Philosophy, logic and mathematics have a very large body of literature that takes years to truly understand. Peirce is just one of many whose writings contain answers to questions that we could otherwise ponder for decades only to arrive at the same answer. As Pat says to Tim in the video, Peirce solved the same problem as RDF with Existential Graphs in 1896. And he did it right!
  2. Our feelings really are useful indicators of when something is or isn’t right. Pat talks about having a sense that Bnodes weren’t quite right during the specification of RDF. In hindsight Pat had the right intuition and he has proposed a backward compatible solution based on Peirce’s Sheets of Assertion. There’s a Myers-Briggs story to be told that’s especially meaningful to me. I’m an INFJ. Over the last few years I’ve come to recognize many occasions where my feelings were good indicators of the truth. Although a cursory reading of Myers-Briggs may lead one to believe feeling (F) and Thinking (T) are in opposition, they are not. Our feelings are as good indicators of the truth as is logic.
  3. We often overlook advice only to learn later of its immense value. This happens when we’re just not ready to learn something. What I learned from Pat’s story that “John Sowa showed me Peirce, then he showed me Peirce again, then he showed me Peirce again” is that sometimes we’re just not ready to hear the advice we’re offered. I’ve been overlooking the advice to take Common Logic seriously for a few years now and Pat’s talk convinced me its time to take a serious look.

There’s another relevant point from Pat’s talk that should not go unmentioned. Pat’s talk was given at ISWC, but could equally well have been given to the Object Management Group. The OMG recently issued a request for proposals for a MOF to RDF Structural Mapping in Support of Linked Data. The contents of the RFP imply that the OMG faces many of the same challenges as W3C. The OMG would do well to study W3C’s lessons learned from RDF.