Sunday, March 4, 2012

Re: Cataloging Matters Podcast, no. 14: Musings on the Linked Data Diagram

Posting to RDA-L

On 03/03/2012 21:02, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
<snip>
This white paper http://virtuoso.openlinksw.com/whitepapers/open%20conceptual%20data%20models.html I've found useful in explaining the basic concepts behind the Semantic Web.

The Semantic Web is about turning the web into a database, by using available web technologies and applying database techniques. It's about using the web to express and convey conceptual models. Conceptual models can be built with entity-relationship analyses, which is usually the first thing done in establishing a data system, no matter how it gets executed. Such an analysis was done on bibliographic data. It was called FRBR. As an entity-relationship analysis, it has relevance for any kind of data implementation, not just the Semantic Web.

Once that analysis was completed, the next step was to develop the content rules and create the metadata registry of data elements and vocabulary that are the building blocks for Semantic Web technology. That was done with http://access.rdatoolkit.org/ and http://rdvocab.info/ . This is called RDA. So far FRBR and RDA are batting 1000 for being important for the current domain of library bibliographic data and establishing its relationship to the Semantic Web. It's a long way from "very, very slight", which is a bizarre assertion given the plain facts.
</snip>
I think I have demonstrated that I understand the ideas of the Semantic Web, Linked Data, Web3.0, and FRBR. It is all theory, still unproven that it works in today's climate. Whether any of traditional library metadata really, genuinely worked for patrons in earlier times is an academic question that, at this point, is a matter for historians to decide and is irrelevant for us today. I do think that it would be worthwhile if some library historians would seriously reconsider the issue, however.

It's obvious that I am not interested in theory focused on "should be" and "would be". Now--of all times--we should be focused on practical matters. What can we really and honestly do that will make a difference to our patrons? Focusing on "shoulds" and "woulds" reminds me of the Ford Edsel disaster, which I suggest people read about if they don't already know about it. Here is a short review of a book http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-01-01/features/0301010307_1_edsel-dearborn-disaster, but there is a lot written about it. Many people today *still* love the Edsel. I remember how much my grandfather loved his Edsel. It really was innovative. Take a look at this advertisement with Lucy and Ricky http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dg4Xd88OZ_8. The photo in this article speaks volumes, I think: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/01/nyregion/01edsel.html He looks like a nice enough guy, but he is living in another time, in another world.

The feelings of all those people are completely beside the point. Maybe they are right: the Edsel should have succeeded, but it didn't, and some even believe it led to the eventual problems that led to the collapse of the entire US automobile industry. The fact is, the Edsel ended in complete disaster, many people were hurt and there is no explaining it away. Others can only try to understand and not replicate it. Learning from history, one of the many mistakes with the Edsel was that it came in during an economic downturn. It was not a practical solution, especially for the time.

I think it is vital for libraries to survive and whatever that requires, I really don't care. Our field should not be ideologically driven. No one in the world--*absolutely no one*--knows how people want to search for information and what they want to do with that information once they find it. No one. As I said in my paper in Oslo, if somebody says that they do, then ignore them because they do not. Many have a few ideas that may turn out to be right or wrong. I have a few ideas myself, but it may turn out that we are all completely wrong. Edsel Ford was a clever man. He really and truly thought he knew what people wanted, but he was completely wrong.

If we want to enter the Semantic Web, I agree that it's an OK idea, but we *DO NOT* need FRBR structures to do it. There are many ways to enter it: easily and cheaply, or we can do it in expensive, disruptive ways that in this economic climate, may very well may mean, "burning our bridges". We still don't know what people want, and to maintain that we do after the experience with web search engines that *don't even allow them*, to maintain that the public wants and needs the FRBR user tasks I find equally bizarre.

Now, if somebody can come up with a decent business plan that demonstrates this, it may be a different matter. Edsel Ford was Henry Ford's only son and therefore, he did *not* have to show a decent business plan. Too bad for lots and lots and lots of people who lost money, jobs and/or their businesses. Edsel and his family were all right however.

I know you believe that FRBR will solve the information needs of the public and many agree with you. I find such an assertion very strange in today's information environment and cannot agree, and I think there are some who agree with me.

Heading into this new world without a decent business plan is extremely dangerous. I hope libraries have some "Plan Bs" in their arsenals.

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