One of the terms that’s crept into the “buzzword bingo” vocabulary recently is “semantic web”. To be honest I still have no idea what it really means and when I try to find good definitions via any of the search engines, I fail. It’s not a term that means anything or conveys an idea to me. While looking around I did come across the concept of microformats. In fact the work I did on the projects site for the ASF uses something very similar, DOAP.
I’ve always had a slightly soft spot for data (wasn’t that a geeky comment) and the concept of microformats appeals to me on a lot of levels. There still seems to be a long way to go before they break into the mainstream, but a related project, foaf, has already started getting a lot of attention. When looking at the stillborn work I was doing for the committer information at the ASF it was suggested that we use it as the storage format. That didn’t seem to make much sense but we did generate foaf files from the simpler XML format I proposed to allow the data to be easily exchanged.
foaf for me just doesn’t quite cut it as a solution for storing data about myself. I’m not sure it can even be viewed as a microformat as the rationale of microformats seems to be that they do one thing and so it well, but foaf tries to do too many things and ends up as a bit of a mess. Given it’s been evolving for a while as an open source style project that’s not much of a surprise and prefectly understandable.
Rather than having a single enormous file I’d rather have a small number of smaller more focussed files. One file would have my personal data in it. This data doesn’t change often so it makes sense to have it in a seperate file. Then I’d have a series of files that defined my relationships with others and projects I work on. Obviously the relationship files would just link to the personal data file. That seems to me to be a better way to describe myself and offers more flexability than foaf does at present.
While I think microformats are likely to be very useful, I do worry about the current hype levels surrounding them. History has proven that any emerging technology or idea that generates too much hype inevitably disappoints and fails. Hopefully that won’t be the case this time…