Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The problem with RDF 

Richard Cyganiak

Q: Shouldn’t we concentrate more on RDF data and schema than OWL?
A: Maybe – but I’m a logician, not a database guy.

Q: (Klaus Schild) Scalability? OWL is NP-complete.
A: Distribution helps. Certain combinations of operators are deadly, but if the two operators happen to end up on different nodes, things can be much faster. But in general it’s a problem.

Q: But if you take the Web seriously, you need sub-linear complexity.
A: You can’t have that with RDF and OWL.

Topics: RDF | OWL | Web2.0

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

The evolution of evolution 

Jordan Zlatev
I started as a computational linguist, but soon got disappointed at the complete inability of computational models to account for real, meaningful human language. I studied cognitive linguistics and cognitive science and experimented with connectionist modeling of language, but eventually have found these, like the old AI programs and parsers to be semiotically inadequate. Adaptive (evolutionary, epigenetic) robotics is a step in the right direction, but like all computational models it can only simulate rather than instantiate meaning, which now I am convinced is a property of living systems only. Accordingly I have moved further and further away from machines and towards biology and culture in the study of children, different languages and evolution.

Topics: meaning | language | evolution

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Deconstructing Databases 

Greg Stein via Dale
He believed that existing systems spent too much time deciding how to structure data entry and presenting a detailed form for users to fill out. They also then lock down the display of the information. He decided to keep structured data entry to a minimum and rely on text entry. A lot happens with labels/tags/keywords, for instance, to assign priority. The new bug submission form consisted of a text area with a few questions already inside it.

Greg makes a terrific point that could be applied more broadly to business applications, and might even be a design approach for Web 2.0 applications. A whole lot of effort goes into defining and refining the database structure behind most business apps. What is carefully placed in one bucket (or category or grouping) is not found when you look in another bucket.

What if powerful full-text search tools change all that? What if instead of describing in detail the many specific fields of a record that might be important, and then having to train users on what they actually mean, and when to use them, you sidestep those tedious tasks and encourage users to write text. And write freely. The more the better. My hunch is that unstructured data can be richer and easier to collect than highly structured data, and therefore more valuable.

It would be an interesting exercise to look at overdesigned business applications and consider how they might be designed to look less like a database and more like a conversation.

Topics: Design | Database | Architecture

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What Limits Software Growth 

John Ousterhout
Unfortunately, everything in software leads to more complexity. There are various laws of physics people have discovered, and there are corresponding laws of software. The first law of software is that software systems tend towards increasing states of complexity. It's almost a perfect mirror of the First Law of Thermodynamics in physics

. . .

The techniques in extreme programming will allow us to do things that we've never done before, that we couldn't do in the past. And that makes even bigger, more complex projects feasible. What's immediately going to happen, as soon as people get the current stuff totally under control, easily manageable, [is that] their ambitions ... are going to go up dramatically. And they're going to build even bigger things. We will never go back to a simpler day, I'm afraid. We just find better ways to manage complex things.

What would be next, after that? Personally, I think there is a bottleneck around the development of Web-based applications. Web applications have a very different development style than traditional software [does]... It has something to do with the fact that there are so many different technologies that have to be mixed together to do Web application development. You end up using Java, JavaScript, and Perl, HTML, CSS, and on, and on. Each of those pieces is pretty good by itself, but when you try to combine all those together, projects become very difficult to manage. I think there is opportunity for someone to come up with a paradigm, or a toolkit, to make it dramatically simpler to develop really powerful applications over the Web. Over the next five or ten years, something is going to happen there. I can't tell you what it is.

Topics: Complexity | Architecture | Software

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