[whatwg] RDFa is to structured data, like canvas is to bitmap and SVG is to vector

Dan Brickley danbri at danbri.org
Sun Jan 18 02:16:08 PST 2009

On 17/1/09 23:30, L. David Baron wrote:
> On Saturday 2009-01-17 22:25 +0200, Henri Sivonen wrote:
>> The story of RDF is very different. Of the top four engines, only Gecko
>> has RDF functionality. It was implemented at a time when RDF was a young
>> W3C REC and stuff that were W3C RECs were implemented less critically
>> than nowadays.
> Actually, the implementation was well underway *before* RDF was a
> W3C REC, done by a team led by one of the designers of RDF.  In
> other words, it was in Gecko because there were RDF advocates at
> Netscape (although advocating, I think, a somewhat different RDF
> than the current RDF recommendations).

Yes, Netscape had this stuff when it was still called MCF. W3C's RDF 
took ideas from several input activities, including MCF, Microsoft 
XML-Data, PICS, and requirements from the Dublin Core community. But it 
looks more like MCF than the others.

MCF was originally proposed by R.V.Guha at Apple; it followed him from 
Apple to Netscape in 1997, and when the Mozilla sources were later 
thrown over the wall, there was a lot of MCF in there.

MCF White Paper, 1996 http://www.guha.com/mcf/wp.html
spec, http://www.guha.com/mcf/mcf_spec.html

While this was at Apple, there was a product/viewer called HotSauce / 
Project X, and some early grassroots adoption of MCF as a text format 
for publishing website summaries.


  It was at this stage that dialog started with the Library scene and 
Dublin Core folk, about how it related to their notion of catalogue 
records, and to the evolving PICS labelling system, format and protocol 
being built at W3C.
The MCF/RSS relationship is a whole other story, eg. see

Then the thing moved to Netscape. Tim Bray helped Guha XMLize the spec, 
which was submitted to W3C in 1997, where it joined the existing efforts 
to extend PICS to include text labels and more structure - 

So the June 97 spec was
.. you can see from the figures that the technology was very RDF-shaped, 
http://www.w3.org/TR/NOTE-MCF-XML/#sec2. Also a tutorial at 

Netscape press release accompanying June 13 1997 submission -

Less than 4 months later, this came out as a W3C Working Draft called 
"RDF": http://www.w3.org/TR/WD-rdf-syntax-971002/
... in a shape that didn't really change much subsequently. RDF wasn't 
the same design exactly as MCF but the ancestry is clear enough.

And getting back to the original point, yeah Mozilla had MCF sitemaps 
code in there.


http://www.irt.org/articles/js086/ and the like, it's clear that RDF was 
very much a child of the 1st browser wars.

In retrospect the direction it took within Mozilla didn't do anyone much 
good. The earliest MCF apps were about public data on the public Web, 
feeds, sitemaps and so on. But eventually the ambition to be a complete 
information hub led to MCF/RDF being used for pretty much everything 
*inside* Mozilla. And I don't think that turned out very well. 
http://www.mozilla.org/rdf/doc/api.html etc. The RDF vocabularies it 
used were poorly or never documented (I have some guilt there) and when 
Netscape went away, the incentive to connect to public data on the Web 
seemed to drop (no more tie-ins with the 'what's related' annotation 
server, 'dmoz' etc.). RDF drifted from being a Web data format to be 
consumed *by* the browser, into an engineering tool to be used in the 
construction *of* the browser, ie. as a datasource abstraction within 
Mozilla APIs. While I can certainly see the value of having a unified 
view of mail, news, sitemaps, and so on, the Moz code at the time wasn't 
really in a position to match up to the language in the press releases.

Not making any particular point here beyond connecting up to the MCF 




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