Vocabularies at W3C

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In my opening post on this blog I hinted that another would follow concerning vocabularies. Here it is.

When the Semantic Web first began, the expectation was that people would create their own vocabularies/schemas as required – it was all part of the open world (free love, do what you feel, dude) Zeitgeist. Over time, however, and with the benefit of a large measure of hindsight, it's become clear that this is not what's required.

The success of Linked Open Vocabularies as a central information point about vocabularies is symptomatic of a need, or at least a desire, for an authoritative reference point to aid the encoding and publication of data. This need/desire is expressed even more forcefully in the rapid success and adoption of schema.org. The large and growing set of terms in the schema.org namespace includes many established terms defined elsewhere, such as in vCard, FOAF, Good Relations and rNews. I'm delighted that Dan Brickley has indicated that schema.org will reference what one might call 'source vocabularies' in the near future, I hope with assertions like owl:equivalentClass, owl:equivalentProperty etc.

Designed and promoted as a means of helping search engines make sense of unstructured data (i.e. text), schema.org terms are being adopted in other contexts, for example in the ADMS. The Data Activity supports the schema.org effort as an important component and we're delighted that the partners (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Yandex) develop the vocabulary through the Web Schemas Task Force, part of the W3C Semantic Web Interest Group of which Dan Brickley is chair.

But there's a lot more to vocabularies at W3C than supporting schema.org.

First of all, we want to promote the use of our Community Group infrastructure as a place to develop and maintain vocabularies. Anyone can propose a Community Group, anyone can join. Moreover, it's really easy for us to allocate a namespace for your vocabulary, i.e. http://www.w3.org/ns/yourVocab. That gives the outside world a promise of persistence of your terms that you can add to, clarify and, if needs be, deprecate – but not delete

As an example, one Community Group that has recently become very active in its discussion of a vocabulary is the Locations and Addresses CG which is looking after http://www.w3.org/ns/locn, originally developed by the European Commission's ISA Programme.

Another aspect of vocabulary development and maintenance I'm very keen to promote at W3C is the provision of multilingual labels and comments. We've got some good examples of this to shout about: the Data Catalog Vocabulary, DCAT, has labels in English, French, Spanish, Greek and Arabic. The Organization Ontology has long had labels in both English and French and just last week, I was able to add Italian, thanks to Antonio Maccioni and Giorgia Lodi at the Italian Digital Agency.

If you use a vocabulary hosted by W3C, whether you're involved in its development or not, and you're able to offer a translation of the labels, comments and usage notes, please let us know – we'll add them.

We're still developing our ideas on how we can best support the development and maintenance of vocabularies at W3C but the direction of travel is clear – we're very much here to help.

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