#heweb10 - How I learned to stop worrying and love the semantic web

Four Design Patterns - or How I learned to stop worrying and love the semantic web
TPR / 11:45 am / Monday
Brian Panulla @bpanulla

Why new web?


  • a parallel information architecture for smarter apps
  • web content, pages and sites DO NOT need to change to be made ready for the 3.0 Webs

Three things the semantic web is NOT (kinda)

  • it is NOT semantic HTML (thats a collision of terminology … this is a different semantic)
    • Zeldman says WRITE semantic HTML (use lists, use container p, use headers properly, don’t use presentational markup, don’t use br for padding and no tables for non-tabular data)
  • it’s NOT Warmed-over Artificial Intelligence
  • it’s NOT magic

Who cares?

(showing XKCD comic #773 about things on the front page of university websites — vs thins people go to the site looking for).  Everything on the right is semantic stuff!


  • explicit meaning of symbols
    • words - usage, connotation
    • images - symbolism
  • become really useful when shared
  • semantics differs from SYNTAX
    • rules of how symbols (words, letters, pictures) can be arranged.
      • I love Sushi.
      • I (heart symbol) sushi.
      • I love Sushi, but not in that way.
      • And who or what is “Sushi”?

Technology Primer

  • RDF: Resource Description Framework
    • RDF is fundamental knowledge representation
      • declares resources
      • specifies properties of resources
    • What is a resource?
      • EVERYTHING is a resource… even properties.
    • URIs
      • resources are identified by a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI)
        • https://www.psu.edu/owl/list.owl#CollegeOfIST
        • https://2010.highedweb.org/sessions.rdf#TPR9
      • can also be round in your XHTML DTD and html tag’s xmlns attribute
    • Triples
      • RDF is expressed as triples:
        • Example 1
          • subject (“Penn State”)
          • predicate (“is a”)
          • object (“University”)
        • Example 2
          • subject (“Brian Panulla”)
          • predicate (“presented at”)
          • object (“High Ed Web Conference”)
      • Triples to Graphs
        • see how data is related
  • Web Ontologies
    • where schemas describe structure, ontologies describe meaning or intended use
    • OWL adds more expressiveness and many aspects of formal logic to RDF
  • On Design Patterns
    • Inspired by book Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software
    • Architectural patterns like MVC


  • Linked Data:  Use Cases
    • Publish/Syndicate complete information sets
    • Embedded explicit semantics, unique identifiers
    • have minimal impact to other Web information publishing
    • may be static or dynamically generated
      • GeoNames (geonames.org)
      • DBPedia (dbpedia.org)
      • Open Rubrics
    • The Linked Data Cloud
      • https://richard.evganiak.de/2007_10_lod (not sure on this URL …. )
    • Weaknesses
      • access control can be difficult for sensitive or confidential
      • damaging to proprietary intellectual property
    • Alternatives
      • serialized data: XML, JSON, CSV (common, structural not semantic)
      • microdata


  • Best Buy and Overstock have started tagging their products in RDFa
  • Weaknesses
    • XHTML required for RDFa validation
      • new DOCTYPE
      • XML MIME type
  • Alternatives
    • microformats (not discoverable)
    • HTML5 Data attributes - application-level semantics only
    • HTML5 Microdata - easier to read, more verbose elements


  • Manipulate linked data in a rich client
  • generate multiple presentational forms
  • i.e. Open Rubric Builder
  • Weaknesses
    • processing/bandwidth resources constrained
    • client libraries still maturing
    • constraints of accessibility requirements
  • Alternatives


  • Domains where schemas/models change rapidly or data is sparse
  • Semantics of relational model inadequates (e.g. inferencing, inheritance)
  • Domains emphasizing relationships
    • social networks
    • taxonomies
  • Triple Stores
    • database tuned for graphs of RDF statements
    • sometimes a Quad Store (provenance)
    • Popular - Jena, AllegroGraph, Virtuoso
  • Weaknesses
    • bad for opaque objects with few relationships
    • large sets of homogenous objects
  • Alternatives
    • RDBMS
    • NoSQL (document dbs, key/value stores, graph databases)


  • query language for RDF docs
  • grabs all subjects, predicates and objects from RDF document
  • queries are similar to mysql

Higher Education Use Cases

  • Degree Requirements based on class listings
  • Talk to Brian about other use cases … we ran out of time!!

This post was written by:

Lacy Tite - who has written 10 posts on .eduGuru

Lacy is a web developer for Vanderbilt University (Go 'Dores!) in the  University Web Communications office (which is responsible for the Vanderbilt homepage and all top level pages - as well as providing development, design, content management, communication strategy assistance to the entire Vanderbilt community.)  Follow Lacy: twitter | VU project blog | delicious