[whatwg] RDFa mis-use and abuse (was: RDFa Basics Video (8 minutes))

Manu Sporny msporny at digitalbazaar.com
Wed Aug 27 14:37:20 PDT 2008

Kristof Zelechovski wrote:
> <span about="#jane" typeof="foaf:Person" property="foaf:name"
> >Jane</span >
> <span about="#jane" property="foaf:loves" resource="#mac"
> >hates</span >
> <span about="#mac" typeof="foaf:Person" property="foaf:name"
> >Mac</span >.
> Ugh.  That really hurt.

(I've corrected @instanceof to @typeof in your example above -
@instanceof is old and deprecated - apologies, but the video linked to
was made before we made the change to RDFa).

You didn't really specify what your point was, Křištof. I'm guessing
that you are alluding to the fact that people will mis-use RDFa. If that
was your point, then yes, I agree with you - a small subset of people
will mis-use RDFa.

However, that is a problem with all technologies - there is ample room
for both good uses, bad uses and mis-uses when dealing with any new,
revolutionary technology.

For example, the automobile allowed for a massive shift in the way we
use transportation. However, road-related incidents kill roughly 1.2
million people each year, and around 50 million people per year are
injured as a cause of this technology[1].

Even with these massive causes to loss of life and body, we continue to
use the technology. We continue usage because it is more economically
beneficial for us to do so than it is for us to do without the technology.

We are privileged in this case because RDFa is certainly not going to
cause as much bodily injury as the automobile. :)

In your example above, someone has carelessly modified the meaning of
the semantic statement but has not modified the meaning of the human
statement. They have mis-communicated - something that we do in language
all the time. I am not defending their mistake, just acknowledging that
mistakes happen and we must deal with the consequences.

The question is, how do we address this issue?

Your answer seems to be implying that "People are going to mis-use RDFa,
so let's not give them the option of using RDFa!" - which is a very
extreme and authoritarian way to look at the issue. If you believe that
most web authors are sheep that are not capable of doing their job or
hobby correctly, it will be difficult to trust them to use any web-based

People will mis-use HTML5 features. They will abuse the video tag, they
will screw up the progress meter and make a mess of the Worker API. This
does not mean that you should not provide the mechanism. There will be
many others that will gain utility from the feature.

That is really what all of us are trying to do here - raise the overall
utility of the tools available to web designers. In the case of RDFa -
we are going from something that they can barely do today, to a full
specification of how to express semantics in HTML family languages.

So, let's make sure that we don't fall down the "dangerous forbidden
technology" rabbit hole - that argument rarely works in the interest of
of progress or those who use it as a means to halt progress.

-- manu


Manu Sporny
President/CEO - Digital Bazaar, Inc.
blog: Bitmunk 3.0 Website Launches

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