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RDFa now a W3C recommendation; message from Hal Abelson


Yesterday RDFa, a technical standard Creative Commons has championed at the World Wide Web Consortium for five years, was made a W3C Recommendation — a standard for the web to build upon.

CC founding board member and MIT computer science professor Hal Abelson sends this message:

Dear Staff and Board,

I’m writing with some great news:

Today, the technical specification RDFa in XHTML Syntax and Processing was formally accepted as a Web Consortium Technical Recommendation by W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee.

Those the words might not mean much to any but the geekiest of us — but this is a big deal.

Creative Commons was a early adopter of Semantic Web standards. And yet, while the Semantic Web provided RDF as a standard for expressing metadata, it did not provide a standard for how that metadata should be integrated into ordinary Web pages.

The original concept of the Semantic Web did not encompass the notion that ordinary Web pages would be augmented with machine-readable metadata. Even today, that notion remains controversial. One considerable faction still holds that HTML should be purely a formatting language with no provision for any semantic information at all. Other factions, like microformats community, advocate metadata standards that do not integrate well into RDF and general Semantic Web applications.

CC licensing was the first use of the Web to envision Web publishers augmenting their pages with small amounts of machine-readable markup: the CC licensing attributes. It was our desire achieve this consistently with the Semantic Web that led to our involvement with the Web standards community; and the need to advocate for such a standard was why CC joined the Web Consortium in the first place.

RDFa is the standard that has emerged from this effort. RDFa is a general mechanism for expressing machine-readable attributes on Web pages in a way that is integrates with HTML. The most obvious example for us is the Creative Commons Rights Expression language (ccREL) — a machine-readable way to express CC licensing.

W3C’s adoption today of the RDFa recommendation solidifies the technical underpinning of ccREL and opens the door to the development and widespread support for CC-compliant tools on the Web.

There are many people who deserve credit for RDFa. Mike Linksvayer and Nathan Yergler certainly get kudos for their consistent support and development of the CC infrastructure to emphasize RDFa and ccREL.

But the lion’s share of the credit goes to Ben Adida, CC’s W3C representative, who led this effort creatively and tirelessly. Ben’s leadership in the technical design of RDFa and the negotiations and refinements to bring RDFa all the way through the complex Web standards process has been an effort of more than five years.

This work on RDFa not only has major benefit to CC, but it’s a significant example CC providing technical leadership in Web community and a contribution that will have implications far beyond CC’s own applications.

Ben deserves our sincerest thanks and congratulations.

== Hal

(Also check out Hal’s starring role in the new Jesse Dylan video about Creative Commons, A Shared Culture.)

Congratulations and thanks to Ben and everyone else who has worked so hard on this effort for so many years.

If you’re a web developer, check out RDFa and ccREL. A great place to start is Ben’s Introduction to ccREL talk from our first CC technology summit held in June (slides and video available at the link; also check out the CFP for our upcoming December tech summit at MIT). Ben also recommends a new post from the founder of Drupal on Drupal, the semantic web and search.

Otherwise (and even if you are a web developer), the best way to support this work is by supporting Creative Commons. Our annual fundraising campaign just kicked off yesterday, so now is an excellent time to give.


Posted 16 October 2008