Resource description framework (RDF) is a technical framework for data exchange and interpretation of concepts published on the Web. This used to be called the semantic web, which never became a reality. Now, almost 20 years after its launch, interest seems to be on the rise to address some of the issues that the digitalised society faces.
The framework was launched in 2001 and builds on technology and standards that made the web possible in the early 1990s. The basic idea of the technology was to create a uniform semantic understanding of objects and concepts so that data could be exchanged and shared openly on the web. The framework contains standards for linking data to metadata description to create conceptual understanding. This is important for consistent interpretation of objects and concepts that are exchanged between organisations, domain areas and across national borders.
The framework is based on established theories from discrete mathematics and forms the basis of graph databases suitable for storing dynamic relationships and semantic queries. The framework also contains descriptive logic that was developed in artificial intelligence (AI) in the early 1980s to construct rules for validating logical reasoning. Together, it enables a description of logical reasoning in digital format that can be used to extract implicit knowledge from conceptual models that represent known facts. For example in DNA research to discover DNA sequences.
At the time when the framework was created, there was a vision of a decentralized web where people, organizations and companies shared data with each other. Where the semantic web and smart agents formed a common digital infrastructure that could solve our needs by finding relationships between producers and consumers of services without having to be configured to solve specific tasks or requests. This can be seen against today’s agents like Apple Siri and Google Assistant, which can only perform tasks and relate information they are specifically designed to do.
The vision that Tim Berners-Lee (creator of WWW & HTTP) together with other researchers had does not exist to day for various reasons. The web, which was once created as an open digital infrastructure for sharing data and services with each other. Has been replaced by an internet where large platform owners dominate and retain ownership of data and information. Another reason is that principles of openness and participation can be abused by malicious actors and can pose a security problem in a digitised society.
Today, parts of the framework are being developed to better suit internet of today. Examples of this is that W3C launched the JSON-LD format in 2014 to make the technology more accessible. JSON is the dominant format for many web services today. The same year, Google launched the Knowledge Graph Search API service, which uses the JSON-LD format to illustrate related concepts to search keywords. The following year, Google, Bing and Yahoo started schema.org to improve web search services by providing coherent models to describe common concepts related to search keywords. Another example is Facebook OpenGraph, which is an RDF like standard for integrating articles that others are published online to the company’s own platform by using metadata description about the article to personalise news feeds for users.
Increased interest concerning the framework from European programs like the interoperability framework ISA² and Shift2Rail project to increase innovation potential within the European railway system. Are signs that adaptation and evolvement of the framework is more apt for the internet of today with connected devices, large amounts of data and security problems. Together with the problems with many of the fragmented IT systems of today with standards and formats has paved the way for a renaissance of the framework to be able to create a more coherent use and reuse of data.
Data does not become more valuable or easier to reuse just because it is published in RDF format. In order to create semantic interoperability, investments in reference conceptual models are needed, like the current EU initiative. Which will enables digital representation of concepts to facilitate reuse of data in important social sectors. In addition to reference models there is a need of digital infrastructure built on open technology and standards to augment coherent data exchange. Whether ongoing EU initiatives and the development of the RDF framework will lead to better exchange and re-use of data remains to be seen. But the vision of a global semantic web like the the creators had 20 years ago, is probably a pipe dream that never will see the light of day.
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