Ivan’s private site

January 4, 2014

Data vs. Publishing: my change of responsibilities…

Fairly Lake Botanical Garden, Shenzhen, China

There was an official announcement, as well as some references, on the fact that the structure of data related work has changed at W3C. A new activity has been created called “Data Activity”, that subsumes what used to be called the Semantic Web Activity. “Subsumes is an important term here: W3C does not abandon the Semantic Web work (I emphasize that because I did get such reactions); instead, the existing and possible future work is simply continuing within a new structure. The renaming is simply a sign that W3C has also to pay attention to the fact that there are many different data formats used on the Web, not all of them follow the principles and technologies of the Semantic Web, and those other formats and approaches also have technological and standardization needs that W3C might be in position to help with. It is not the purpose of this blog, however, to look at the details; the interested reader may consult the official announcements (or consider Tim Finin’s formula: Data Activity  ⊃ Semantic Web  ∪  eGovernment :-)

There is a much less important but more personal aspect of the change, though: I will not be the leader of this new Data Activity (my colleague and friend, Phil Archer, will do that). Before anybody tries to find some complicated explanation (e.g., that I was fired): the reason is much more simple. About a year ago I got interested by a fairly different area, namely Digital Publishing. What used to be, back then, a so-called “headlight” project at W3C, i.e., an exploration into a new area, turned into an Activity on its own, with me as the lead, last summer. There is a good reason for that: after all, digital publishing (e.g., e-books) may represent one of the largest usage areas of the core W3C technologies (i.e., HTML5, CSS, or SVG) right after browsers; indeed, for those of you who do not realize that (I did not know that just a year and a half ago either…) an e-book is “just” a frozen and packaged Web site, using many of the technologies defined by W3C. A major user area, thus, but whose requirements may be special and not yet properly represented at W3C. Hence the new Activity.

However, this development at W3C had its price for me: I had to choose. Heading both the Digital Publishing and the Data Activities was not an option. I have lead W3C’s Semantic Web Activity for cca. 7 years; 7 years that were rich in events and results (the forward march of Linked Open Data, a much more general presence and acceptation of the technology, specifications like OWL 2, RDFa, RDB2RDF, PROV, SKOS, SPARQL 1.1, with RDF 1.1 just around the corner now…). I had my role in many of these, although I was merely a coordinator for the work done by other amazing individuals. But, I had to choose, and I decided to go towards new horizons (in view of my age, probably for the last time in my professional life); hence my choice for Digital Publishing. As simple as that…

But this does not mean I am completely “out”. First of all, I will still actively participate in some of the data activity groups (e.g., in the “CSV on the Web WG”), and have a continuing interest in many of the issues there. But, maybe more importantly, there are some major overlapping areas between Digital Publishing and Data on the Web. For example, publishing also means scientific, scholarly publishing, and this particular area is increasingly aware of the fact that publishing data, as part of reporting of a particular scientific endeavor, becomes as important as publishing a traditional paper. And this raises tons of issues on data formats, linked data, metadata, access, provenance, etc. Another example: the traditional publishing industry makes an increasingly heavy usage of metadata. There is a recognition among publishers that a well chosen and well curated defined metadata for books is a major business asset that may make a publication win or loose. There are many (overlapping…) vocabularies and relationships to libraries, archival facilities, etc., come to the fore. Via this metadata the world of publishing may become a major player of the Linked Data cloud. A final example may be annotation: while many aspects of the annotation work is inherently bound to Semantic Web (see, e.g., the work W3C Community Group on Annotation), it is also considered to be one of the most important areas for future development in, say, the educational publishing area.

I can, hopefully, contribute to these overlapping areas with my experience from the Semantic Web. So no, I am not entirely gone, just changed hats! Or, as on the picture, acting (also) as a bridge…

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