Monday, April 19, 2010

FRBR a Dead End?

RDF graph for Eric Miller provided as an examp...Image via Wikipedia

Just back from the Texas Library Conference (TxLA10), lots to digest and process from several very busy, long days.

One thing that hit me over the head was that FRBR might be a poor model for our data. A speaker said that the object-entity model was based on relational databases. Well, relational databases have been the tool we used for the past 25 years or better. However, they might not be the tool we use in the near future. RDF triples, topic maps, and other tools seem to be where we are heading. Away from relational databases in any event. In ten years will we be saying of RDA, since it is based on a relational database model, the same things we say of AACR since it is based on a card model?

5 comments:

David said...

I'm posting this message from Dr. Shawne D. Miksa, it was her talk that got me thnking along these lines. We did discuss it a bit after the talk.

David,

Since we talked last week about this at TLA I've been trying to do reading on my end to better understand it all.

I believe I said that as RDA is based in part on FRBR and FRAD, which in turn is based in part on the Entity-Relationship model, created by Peter Chen in 1976, then we must understand this model and the type of databases in which RDA can be applied. My goal in saying this is the get catalogers to think about the catalog in terms of databases and not a card catalog. I don't feel we've taught catalogers to understand the catalog system in terms of a database--not truly, in any case. (My own lack of knowledge is a good example.)

Robert Maxwell's "FRBR--a guide for the complex" helped me to see this more clearly. In truth, it was a revelation for me--or an epiphany--as knowing more about its origins is helping me to more easily understand FRBR.

The whole point being that, regardless of what we are using in 10 years or a 100 years, a cataloger's understanding of the underlying conceptual model of any information system is essential.

bibwild said...

I disagree that an entity-relation model is any less relevant or important for RDF-type data. RDF-type data still requires you to create what RDF calls "vocabularies", which are specifications of WHAT you are talking about (entities), and WHAT you can say about them (attributes and relationships).

I find all this "RDF changes everything" stuff to be over-blown, and have found few software engineers or computer science trained people in the "an E-R model isn't the right thing for RDF" camp.

RDF or not, it doesn't matter, we still need a formalized model of what we are talking about, and what we say about it. You need this in order to make your data inter-operable with other systems, and to write reasonable software that can understand it. This is just the way software engineering is done, and I think metadata engineering is a part of software engineering.

And the best, most time-tested, way of formally describing what you are talking about and what you say about continues to be an Entity-Relationship model, I have not seen a convincing argument that RDF chagnes that, I've just seen trendy buzzword waving.

Since most of the the cataloging world is still struggling to grasp basic principles of software engineering and computational thinking (which I think are _crucial_ for 'cataloging' or metadata engineering, for creating metadata for software use) -- I think this kind of trend-hoping buzzword-waving is very dangerous in destroying the little consensus we have about actually moving forward into the computer world. (I could say "into the 20th century", heh). We already have enough people taking a "reactionary" position against change, we don't need to add people who think they are taking a "visionary" position against the actual clear software-engineering-based ways forward, advocating instead a vague non-solution of "I don't know what it is, but it's got something to do with RDF!".

inkdroid.org said...

Don't worry, entity-relationship models inform much of the thinking about RDF. As with ER models, RDF is fundamentally about describing the relationships between entities (resources).

In fact Ian Davis and Richard Newman to create a FRBR RDF vocabulary. If you don't want to take my word for it, some of the relationship between ER Diagrams and RDF can be found in Relational Databases on the Semantic Web.

Tim said...

Maxwell's book is titled FRBR: A Guide for the Perplexed http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=91
:-)

Ross said...

Jonathan, you are absolutely correct - RDF doesn't change the need for a data model. And you're also right that the storage/transmission medium should be largely unaffected by this. Kingsley Idehen (just!) wrote an amazingly timely "manifesto" about this very thing: http://www.openlinksw.com/dataspace/kidehen@openlinksw.com/weblog/kidehen@openlinksw.com%27s%20BLOG%20%5B127%5D/1624

Basically, his point is that what really matters, first and foremost, is the EAV (Entity-Attribute-Value) model. Once that is established, it is just as easy to put in an RDBMS, RDF graph, Atom document, whatever. Focusing on specific technologies, whether they be 10, 30, 40 or 100 years old is a distraction.

It's a little disheartening, really, that the parties that are shaping, critiquing and debating the future of how we craft and share our data seem have to no knowledge or interest in the very basics of information modeling.