Yrjänä Rankka and I attended ESWC2008 on behalf of OpenLink.

We were invited at the last minute to give a Linked Open Data talk at Paolo Bouquet's Identity and Reference workshop. We also had a demo of SPARQL BI (PPT); other formats coming soon), our business intelligence extensions to SPARQL as well as joining between relational data mapped to RDF and native RDF data. i was also speaking at the social networks panel chaired by Harry Halpin.

I have gathered a few impressions that I will share in the next few posts (1 - RDF Mapping, 2 - DARQ, 3 - voiD, 4 - Paradigmata). Caveat: This is not meant to be complete or impartial press coverage of the event but rather some quick comments on issues of personal/OpenLink interest. The fact that I do not mention something does not mean that it is unimportant.

The voiD Graph

Linked Open Data was well represented, with Chris Bizer, Tom Heath, ourselves and many others. The great advance for LOD this time around is voiD, the Vocabulary of Interlinked Datasets, a means to describe what in fact is inside the LOD cloud, how to join it with what and so forth. Big time important if there is to be a web of federatable data sources, feeding directly into what we have been saying for a while about SPARQL end-point self-description and discovery. There is reasonable hope of having something by the date of Linked Data Planet in a couple of weeks.


Bastian Quilitz gave a talk about his DARQ, a federated version of Jena's ARQ.

Something like DARQ's optimization statistics should make their way into the SPARQL protocol as well as the voiD data set description.

We really need federation but more on this in a separate post.


Axel Polleres et al had a paper about XSPARQL, a merge of XQuery and SPARQL. While visiting DERI a couple of weeks back and again at the conference, we talked about OpenLink implementing the spec. It is evident that the engines must be in the same process and not communicate via the SPARQL protocol for this to be practical. We could do this. We'll have to see when.

Politically, using XQuery to give expressions and XML synthesis to SPARQL would be fitting. These things are needed anyhow, as surely as aggregation and sub-queries but the latter would not so readily come from XQuery. Some rapprochement between RDF and XML folks is desirable anyhow.

Panel: Will the Sem Web Rise to the Challenge of the Social Web?

The social web panel presented the question of whether the sem web was ready for prime time with data portability.

The main thrust was expressed in Harry Halpin's rousing closing words: "Men will fight in a battle and lose a battle for a cause they believe in. Even if the battle is lost, the cause may come back and prevail, this time changed and under a different name. Thus, there may well come to be something like our semantic web, but it may not be the one we have worked all these years to build if we do not rise to the occasion before us right now."

So, how to do this? Dan Brickley asked the audience how many supported, or were aware of, the latest Web 2.0 things, such as OAuth and OpenID. A few were. The general idea was that research (after all, this was a research event) should be more integrated and open to the world at large, not living at the "outdated pace" of a 3 year funding cycle. Stefan Decker of DERI acquiesced in principle. Of course there is impedance mismatch between specialization and interfacing with everything.

I said that triples and vocabularies existed, that OpenLink had ODS (OpenLink Data Spaces, Community LinkedData) for managing one's data-web presence, but that scale would be the next thing. Rather large scale even, with 100 gigatriples (Gtriples) reached before one even noticed. It takes a lot of PCs to host this, maybe $400K worth at today's prices, without replication. Count 16G ram and a few cores per Gtriple so that one is not waiting for disk all the time.

The tricks that Web 2.0 silos do with app-specific data structures and app-specific partitioning do not really work for RDF without compromising the whole point of smooth schema evolution and tolerance of ragged data.

So, simple vocabularies, minimal inference, minimal blank nodes. Besides, note that the inference will have to be done at run time, not forward-chained at load time, if only because users will not agree on what sameAs and other declarations they want for their queries. Not to mention spam or malicious sameAs declarations!

As always, there was the question of business models for the open data web and for semantic technologies in general. As we see it, information overload is the factor driving the demand. Better contextuality will justify semantic technologies. Due to the large volumes and complex processing, a data-as-service model will arise. The data may be open, but its query infrastructure, cleaning, and keeping up-to-date, can be monetized as services.

Identity and Reference

For the identity and reference workshop, the ultimate question is metaphysical and has no single universal answer, even though people, ever since the dawn of time and earlier, have occupied themselves with the issue. Consequently, I started with the Genesis quote where Adam called things by nominibus suis, off-hand implying that things would have some intrinsic ontologically-due names. This would be among the older references to the question, at least in widely known sources.

For present purposes, the consensus seemed to be that what would be considered the same as something else depended entirely on the application. What was similar enough to warrant a sameAs for cooking purposes might not warrant a sameAs for chemistry. In fact, complete and exact sameness for URIs would be very rare. So, instead of making generic weak similarity assertions like similarTo or seeAlso, one would choose a set of strong sameAs assertions and have these in effect for query answering if they were appropriate to the granularity demanded by the application.

Therefore sameAs is our permanent companion, and there will in time be malicious and spam sameAs. So, nothing much should be materialized on the basis of sameAs assertions in an open world. For an app-specific warehouse, sameAs can be resolved at load time.

There was naturally some apparent tension between the Occam camp of entity name services and the LOD camp. I would say that the issue is more a perceived polarity than a real one. People will, inevitably, continue giving things names regardless of any centralized authority. Just look at natural language. But having a dictionary that is commonly accepted for established domains of discourse is immensely helpful.


The semantic search workshop was interesting, especially CYC's presentation. CYC is, as it were, the grand old man of knowledge representation. Over the long term, I would have support of the CYC inference language inside a database query processor. This would mostly be for repurposing the huge knowledge base for helping in search type queries. If it is for transactions or financial reporting, then queries will be SQL and make little or no use of any sort of inference. If it is for summarization or finding things, the opposite holds. For scaling, the issue is just making correct cardinality guesses for query planning, which is harder when inference is involved. We'll see.

I will also have a closer look at natural language one of these days, quite inevitably, since Zitgist (for example) is into entity disambiguation.


Garlic gave a talk about their Data Patrol and QDOS. We agree that storing the data for these as triples instead of 1000 or so constantly changing relational tables could well make the difference between next-to-unmanageable and efficiently adaptive.

Garlic probably has the largest triple collection in constant online use to date. We will soon join them with our hosting of the whole LOD cloud and Sindice/Zitgist as triples.


There is a mood to deliver applications. Consequently, scale remains a central, even the principal topic. So for now we make bigger centrally-managed databases. At the next turn around the corner we will have to turn to federation. The point here is that a planetary-scale, centrally-managed, online system can be made when the workload is uniform and anticipatable, but if it is free-form queries and complex analysis, we have a problem. So we move in the direction of federating and charging based on usage whenever the workload is more complex than making simple lookups now and then.

For the Virtuoso roadmap, this changes little. Next we make data sets available on Amazon EC2, as widely promised at ESWC. With big scale also comes rescaling and repartitioning, so this gets additional weight, as does further parallelizing of single user workloads. As it happens, the same medicine helps for both. At Linked Data Planet, we will make more announcements.