[tdwg-tag] RDF/OWL Good Practices Task Group

Steve Baskauf steve.baskauf at vanderbilt.edu
Sun Sep 25 20:28:20 CEST 2011

I've had time to look over the revisions that you made to the charter.  
I think that the changes you made were useful for clarifying the issues 
faced by the group and have improved the document - thanks for that.  
The only change that I have questions about is one between r45 and r46, 
showing up as line 42 in the source comparison.  (It's possible that 
this may be viewable at this URL: 
In that revision, you removed the section about "meeting the needs for 
standardized data exchange".  My concern to some extent reflects Donald 
Hobern's comments at: 
namely that RDF can play an important role as a data-transfer technology.  

In my somewhat simplistic view, the problem the RDF group faces is 
something like constructing a building with four floors.  (My apologies 
in advance for oversimplification and errors in use of terms.)  Building 
the bottom floor involves coming to a consensus about kinds of things we 
need to talk about in the biodiversity informatics world and their basic 
properties.  (This would involve examining existing vocabularies and 
ontologies within and outside of TDWG and choosing, and if necessary 
creating classes for the resources which are of interest to our 
constituency and at least suggesting some of the critical datatype 
properties [sensu OWL; http://www.w3.org/TR/owl-ref/#Restriction] for 
those classes.)  The second floor involves figuring out how we 
communicate information about these things and the relationships among 
them.  (This would be working out the object properties [sensu OWL] that 
describe the relationships among classes and working out the practical 
details of how users at one institution can make use of information 
provided by or housed at another.)  The third floor involves aggregating 
information and preforming queries on the aggregated data.  (This would 
be figuring out how to make it possible to create triple stores and 
query them with SPARQL; roughly the goals of Linked Data).  The topmost 
floor would involve doing more sophisticated reasoning and making 
discoveries by drawing inferences about the things we have discovered 
(roughly the goals of the Semantic Web).  It seems to me like we are 
asking for trouble if we start building the upper floors without 
constructing the lower ones first.  We need something to support the 
upper floors!  It also seems like we would also be asking for trouble if 
we start building the bottom floor without putting some thought in what 
we plan for the upper floors to look like. 

So my concern about the change is that we don't remove the first and 
second floors from the RDF/OWL building.  The core member list of the 
proposed group is well populated with people who are comfortable with 
living in floors three and four.  But floors one through three are 
really the most directly related to the core mission of TDWG (see 
http://www.tdwg.org/about-tdwg/).  So I feel strongly that they deserve 
a lot of attention, at least in the early part of the TG's work.


Hilmar Lapp wrote:
> Hi Steve -
> Bob suggested too that I changed the charter into an Interest Group 
> charter. So I'm sorry if rather than moving anything forward I created 
> mostly confusion. 
> Having said that, the changes I made are a reflection of the context 
> and scope of charge in which I think this group, whether it is now an 
> IG or TG, should be operating, i.e., that I feel would make the most 
> sense. I feel pretty strongly that producing and practically 
> validating RDF/OWL data publishing and consumption practices will 
> consist of more than one task, and the idea that this is a task we can 
> do once and for all is rather concerning to me. In fact, IMHO it isn't 
> even worth attempting - the technology landscape in this area is 
> evolving so rapidly, anything we produce now is virtually guaranteed 
> to be obsolete in one year if no group feels committed to maintain it.
> I'll also admit that I'm actually surprised to find that the TAG is an 
> IG similar to all others. I would think the TAG ought to be a 
> cross-cutting group that integrates the output from all IGs, and has 
> no TGs of its own other than those devoted to accomplishing this 
> cross-IG integration.
> Finally, if TGs are devoted to accomplishing one task and then they 
> dissolve, I don't understand why anyone should be bothered with 
> creating, and then approving a charter to start with - shouldn't they 
> rather have an agenda (or possibly a proposal preceding that)? Either 
> there are people willing to do the task or there are not - I don't see 
> the point of the chartering/approval process here.
> So, apparently the TDWG process just confuses the hell out of me. And 
> apparently it's really only an IG that would be in line with what I 
> think is  the most useful way to do this. Can we still change to IG?
> -hilmar
> On Sep 23, 2011, at 5:03 PM, Steve Baskauf wrote:
>> Hilmar,
>> I've been in class all afternoon so I haven't had time to look 
>> carefully at your edits yet.  But I wanted to make one comment about 
>> what you said in your second paragraph.  It is part of the nature of 
>> a task group that it have a limited lifespan: the amount of time that 
>> it takes to complete the task which it has been assigned.  After 
>> that, the job of maintaining the standard which the task group 
>> creates reverts to the interest group which chartered it (I am 
>> paraphrasing here from my understanding of 
>> http://www.tdwg.org/about-tdwg/process/).  So if the RDF group is 
>> actually a Task Group chartered by the TAG, then after its task is 
>> completed, it will fall to the TAG to maintain the product that it 
>> creates.
>> The concerns that you raise below include some of the reasons why we 
>> had initially suggested that the group be an Interest Group rather 
>> than a Task Group.  An interest group does not have a defined 
>> lifespan - it exists as long as the interest exists.  Unlike a Task 
>> Group, it does not have to produce a defined product which 
>> http://www.tdwg.org/about-tdwg/process/ implies (but does not 
>> explicitly state) would be a standard of one of the flavors described 
>> in http://www.tdwg.org/standards/status-and-categories/ (Technical 
>> Specification, Applicability Statement, Best Current Practice, or 
>> Data Standard). 
>> The reason why we are currently proposing that the group be a Task 
>> Group is primarily because several members of the TAG felt that was 
>> the most appropriate thing.  I think that I agree with them.  
>> However, I am still uneasy about several aspects of chartering the 
>> group as a Task Group, namely:
>> 1. I don't really understand exactly who the TAG is (i.e. 
>> specifically, who are the particular people to whom the RDF TG would 
>> be accountable?).
>> 2. What precisely is the task whose completion will signal the end of 
>> the life of the Task Group?  We have put some benchmarks in the 
>> charter, but none of them include the creation of a standard of any 
>> of the forms I listed above.  Is that OK for a Task Group?  I don't know.
>> I certainly don't want to put a damper on the forward progress of the 
>> group by asking these questions, because I'm excited about the 
>> prospect of getting the group off the ground and because the TDWG 
>> meeting is only weeks away.  But at the moment we are engaging in a 
>> discussion within the chartering group and I think it would be 
>> appropriate for some of the TAG members to weigh in on these 
>> concerns.  If it turns out that there isn't really any answer to the 
>> question "who exactly is the TAG?" and "what is our task?" then maybe 
>> chartering an Interest Group would be more appropriate than a Task Group.
>> Steve
>> Hilmar Lapp wrote:
>>> Joel -
>>> I've made a number of edits. These are in part to put the motivation  
>>> into a larger beyond-TDWG context, and in part to make it a little  
>>> more future-proof. The charter in places read (to me) more like a  
>>> workshop agenda than a charter, thus preempting decisions that the TG  
>>> participants might (want to) make to a degree that I wasn't fully  
>>> comfortable with. I've tried to make it take a step back.
>>> I also removed the sentence about handing off to the TAG after one  
>>> year - while that may be what the participants indeed decide to do  
>>> after one year, it's not what I'd want ingrained in the charter, and  
>>> also a one-off mindset isn't necessarily what I'd like to start with.  
>>> More to the point, if the TG (or whatever its successor(s)) doesn't  
>>> maintain those documents, I'm afraid nobody will, and there is plenty  
>>> of empirical evidence around the TDWG site to support that.
>>> 	-hilmar
>>> On Sep 19, 2011, at 3:46 PM, joel sachs wrote:
>>>> Greetings everyone,
>>>> After some back and forth amongst Steve Baskauf, myself, Greg  
>>>> Whitbread,
>>>> and the executive, we've decided to move forward with an RDF/OWL task
>>>> group, convened under the TAG. Our task will be to deliver a document
>>>> comprising
>>>> i. use cases and competency questions;
>>>> ii. well documented examples of addressing those use cases via rdf and
>>>> sparql; and
>>>> iii. discussion of advantages and disadvantages of the approaches
>>>> illustrated by the examples.
>>>> Our draft charter is at
>>>> http://code.google.com/p/tdwg-rdf/wiki/CharterOfTG
>>>> and we welcome comments, suggestions, and better ideas. One area where
>>>> we're still open is the question of whether or not our deliverable  
>>>> should
>>>> be an official Best Current Practice document [1]. The charter  
>>>> reflects
>>>> our current feeling that it should not. After we deliver our "book  
>>>> of use
>>>> cases and examples", options would include being re-chartered by the  
>>>> TAG
>>>> to produce a best practices document, spinning off as a "Semantic Web
>>>> Interest Group", or disbanding (either in triumph or despair).
>>>> When we were planning to convene as an Interest Group, several of you
>>>> accepted our invitation to serve as core members, and we hope that
>>>> convening as a Task Group does not change your willingness to do so.  
>>>> If
>>>> you would like to be a core member of the group, and we haven't yet
>>>> contacted you, there's a good chance that we will. But don't wait!  
>>>> Feel
>>>> free to volunteer for core membership. (And recall that you don't  
>>>> have to
>>>> be a "core member to" contribute.)
>>>> In regards timeline, I'd like to incorporate any feedback we  
>>>> receive, and
>>>> submit the charter to the executive at the end of this week, in  
>>>> hopes of
>>>> being chartered by New Orleans.
>>>> Many thanks!
>>>> Joel.
>>>> 1. http://www.tdwg.org/standards/status-and-categories/
>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>> tdwg-tag mailing list
>>>> tdwg-tag at lists.tdwg.org
>>>> http://lists.tdwg.org/mailman/listinfo/tdwg-tag
>> -- 
>> Steven J. Baskauf, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer
>> Vanderbilt University Dept. of Biological Sciences
>> postal mail address:
>> VU Station B 351634
>> Nashville, TN  37235-1634,  U.S.A.
>> delivery address:
>> 2125 Stevenson Center
>> 1161 21st Ave., S.
>> Nashville, TN 37235
>> office: 2128 Stevenson Center
>> phone: (615) 343-4582,  fax: (615) 343-6707
>> http://bioimages.vanderbilt.edu
> -- 
> ===========================================================
> : Hilmar Lapp  -:- Durham, NC -:- informatics.nescent.org :
> ===========================================================

Steven J. Baskauf, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer
Vanderbilt University Dept. of Biological Sciences

postal mail address:
VU Station B 351634
Nashville, TN  37235-1634,  U.S.A.

delivery address:
2125 Stevenson Center
1161 21st Ave., S.
Nashville, TN 37235

office: 2128 Stevenson Center
phone: (615) 343-4582,  fax: (615) 343-6707

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