[whatwg] Creative Commons Rights Expression Language

Ian Hickson ian at hixie.ch
Thu Aug 28 02:28:40 PDT 2008

On Wed, 27 Aug 2008, Ben Adida wrote:
> Ian Hickson wrote:
> >> Clearly, and as the voice-over states, the site needs embedded 
> >> metadata that easily connects "what the user is pointing to" to the 
> >> structured data required for mapping.
> > 
> > Since Craigslist doesn't have structured data now, that seems like a 
> > verifiably false claim. :-)
> Did you listen to the video? It clearly states that they wrote a 
> specific hack for Craigslist, but that they expect this to work more 
> generically.

Sure, I'm just debating "needs". It is possible to do it without 
structured data, indeed the flagship example here doesn't have any. I'm 
not saying that that's a better design (on the contrary). It's just the 
way it is today.

> Site-specific hacks don't scale to the Web. A solution that scales will 
> require a single parser, not site-specific parsers (though site-specific 
> parsers will likely be a transition path.)

To scale to the whole Web, the only thing I can see working is the 
computers understanding human language. I just don't see the whole Web 
marking up their data using fine grained semantic markup. We have enough 
trouble getting them to use <h1> and <p>.

Examine the markup of this page (which I originally stumbled across a few 
months ago, but which was updated just yesterday):


This is the level of authoring that we have to deal with if we're 
targetting the whole Web. That page is a microcosm of specialness, but 
pages like it abound.

> So, assuming you're right about Craigslist (and I think you're wrong, as 
> mentioned above), in your opinion, there won't be a reasonable number of 
> publishers who want to publish RDFa (or something like it?) Everyone 
> will just obscure their data so it's only human readable?

Not everyone, no. Some, many even, will get the religion and mark up their 
data in useful ways. But I don't see any evidence to suggest that a 
critical mass will do so.

> That's a rather limited view of the potential of the web. Do you not see 
> the value that's unleashed by tools like Ubiquity, and the incentive 
> that web sites will have to plug in?

I absolutely see the value. I would absolutely love for the Semantic Web 
vision to be the future. However, just because I want it to come true 
doesn't mean it will come true. It fundamentally relies on humans acting 
in a way that we _know_ they don't. We can't just ignore 18 years of 
experience with the Web and Web authors and say "well our idea is so great 
that authors will all magically make it happen".

I think (some hip) sites will totally plug in, just as they already have, 
using site-specific scripts that can be downloaded by the users of those 
sites. I think a few will use simple domain-specific fine grained markup 
conventions (like Microformats); I think fewer still, possibly many but 
likely not a critical mass, will use RDF and RDFa.

This mirrors what happens today (e.g. GMail and other big sites have 
contacts APIs, a small number of sites have hCard, a very few have FOAF).

I don't see that tools like Ubiquity give any incentive to use RDF. The 
immediate reward from a hard-coded site-specific script is more effective 
than the compound reward of writing a generic script (typically a harder 
task), convincing at least one site to rewrite its markup to use a 
suitable convention, and then debugging the script to work around the bugs 
that that site has, even if one eventually convinces multiple sites to 
support the same conventions.

(Also, note that as much as things like Ubiquity are great for people like 
us, they, like Quicksilver before it, and the Unix command line before 
that, would totally confuse "regular" users. The concept of using a site 
for a single task, and copying the output of that site into another site, 
resonates with users in a way that "just trust us, if you tell the 
computer what you want it'll do it" somehow doesn't. If power like 
Ubiquity is the goal, we haven't yet found the UI for it.)

Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'

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