Mastering the network form

Mastering the network form
Ben's feed

With the 9/11 anniversary upon us, debate rages over a web syndication format known as RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary, RDF Site Summary, Really Simple Syndication, or my favorite, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh .

Only some of those who read and write blogs -- perhaps very few -- have yet to discover the magic of syndication's two-way flow. Of that small number, fewer yet are even aware of the debate, and might find it as silly as the egg controversy that divided Lilliput from Blefescu.

Throughout this whole excruciating process, and especially during the recent flare-up, there has been a deep implicit consensus. While bitterly arguing about which end of the egg to crack, everyone is busily cracking eggs and making omelettes. The debate is spread across a series of weblogs , all connected to one another by means of interoperable variants of the very RSS format being so fiercely debated.

RSS is, all the while, broadcasting many more channels than the Lilliput vs. Blefescu rematch. For example, this morning's program included another in a series of remarkable essays from Ray Ozzie. In Tyranny, Terror, and Technology , Ray muses memorably on what it means to "master the network form," and issues a volley of links on swarming, social network analysis, and the interplay of hierarchy and decentralization.

US-style democracy at its best, Ray says, shows mastery of the network form -- a skill that always was (and still is) a matter of survival first, and then a condition of prosperity.

An aspect of that mastery, and what has kept the RSS discussion flowing even as it questions the foundations of its own format, is something that in the realm of web services has lately come to be called loose coupling.

In the comments area of Ben Hammersley's blog , I wrote:

I don't see how the option [to advance Semantic Web goals in concert with RSS-based syndication] is lost if RDF vocabularies are handled, in RSS, by reference rather than by value.

The entity called Jon Udell has lots of facets, some electronic. I know we share a vision in which some mechanism enables those facets to be threaded together, and related to other sets of facets, for a lot of useful purposes. I'm perfectly happy for that mechanism to be RDF. However since RDF addresses a MUCH more general problem domain than weblog/website syndication, I have concluded that a looser coupling of RDF and RSS best serves both sets of objectives.

Ben responds:

Hmmmmm...looser coupling? That sounds interesting. How do you mean? Can you give an example? Is that like semrefs?

Semrefs? Urp. Wait a sec...

Neo: "Can you fly that thing?"

Trinity: "Not yet. Tank, I need a pilot program for a V212 helicopter."


Eyelids flutter briefly. Oh yeah, of course:

Each COMPL is defined as being formed by two components: CAT and SEMREF. In CAT the syntactic category of the complement is indicated (NP, PP, ...) and only argument complements are included. On the other hand, the value SEMREF belongs to an ontological type (animated, object, ...) that has an index assigned that relates it with an element of the argument structure. [ An Interlingua Representation Based on The Lexico-Semantic Information ]

Seriously, Ben, although I am a Noam Chomsky fan and have more than an inkling what this is about, I'm not sure how to answer your question. But my gut tells me it doesn't need to be baked into RSS in order to play nicely with RSS. Hyperlinks matter .

However this turns out, I'm encouraged to see that we're starting to master the network form -- maybe better than we give ourselves credit for.

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