FOAF going nowhere?

It looks like FOAF (Friend of a Friend) is going nowhere. FOAF is one of the better RDF vocabularies out there. And the adoption rate is tiny. The idea is great: formalize social networks so that software can support it. We have tools to create FOAF files automatically, wordpress does it well, so we cannot blame the failure on the lack of tools to generate the necessary RDF. I think FOAF is the right approach to social networking: distributed and sufficiently simple.

What we seem to be missing, are tools to use the RDF. It is easier to formalize something than to provide a useful enough function for the formal description. Yes, all formal descriptions might be useful, but it needs to be very useful so that people will be motivated to use it. This is why unstructured data dominates the world. This is why the semantic web is not picking up steam.

Shameless plug: I have written up an introduction to RDF in French as part of my online XML course.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

2 thoughts on “FOAF going nowhere?”

  1. Two problems here I think.

    1) As you’ve highlighted, FOAF is a write only format. There’s tons of FOAF out there, but a shortage of lightweight tools to do something with it. And the sheer quantity means that writing a generalised scutter is hard.

    2) It’s an awkward and incomplete format to work with once you extract the data. I find it amazing that we still don’t have a decent standard for describing people. vCard is equally flawed both in the standard and in support.

    If you want to try and take this further my own humble attempt at a FOAF PHP library can be found here.

    The big requirement that’s still unfulfilled isrelated to single signon It’s a way of grabbing profile data from one place and using it in another.

  2. Daniel, cheers for the link! In fact I got more interested about FoaF off of your blog (almost a year or so ago), around the time when I was working on a FoaF parser in ColdFusion.

    For the movement to catch on, developers need to write something like Feedparser for Python – basically a comprehensive parser for using FoaF files. This would solve the issue that Julian is addressing in his first point.

    We should also talk about collaborative filtering sometime. I’ve dabbled a bit with slope-one for some small projects and found success with it (probably one of the better methods that can scale).

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