Demonstrating the value of SPARQL to the Semantic Web

Reduced to its simplest, the SPARQL Recommendations offer a simple and standard means of querying any store of RDF, regardless of the software used to run the store. The software has to support SPARQL, of course, and the Talis Platform is amongst those that do.

I wrote a piece on Nodalities last week, to draw readers' attention to the news that SPARQL had reached the dizzy heights of 'Recommendation'; the highest accolade that those guardians of the web's evolution, W3C, can award to a technology, and the closest that the group comes to calling anything 'standard'.

SPARQL is definitely extremely important. Indeed, Tim Berners-Lee went so far as to suggest that;

“Trying to use the Semantic Web without SPARQL is like trying to use a relational database without SQL.”

However, it's one of those pieces of the puzzle that just gets on and does its job, behind the scenes, often unnoticed and unremarked. That is, of course, exactly as it should be. Technology (unless it's an iPhone) isn't there to be drooled over. It isn't there to rub your nose in its cleverness. It should just ensure, quietly, that your task is completed with less fuss, less intervention, and less hassle than before. If you're lucky, it might let you do something you couldn't do before.

Reduced to its simplest, the SPARQL Recommendations offer a simple and standard means of querying any store of RDF, regardless of the software used to run the store. The software has to support SPARQL, of course, and the Talis Platform is amongst those that do.

I reckon about 50% of Nodalities' readership (where this item was originally posted) knows all this, and lobs SPARQL queries about with gay abandon. That picture is probably quite different here on Web 2.0 Explorer, making the examples that follow even more important. Seeing is often an important step toward believing, and luckily I know just the man to help.

My colleague, Danny Ayers, has put together a simple demonstration to illustrate how SPARQL queries can be formed and submitted to one of several Talis Platform stores. As the Semantic Web grows, and reaches increasingly beyond the laboratory and the Intranet to embrace the open Web, the ability to consistently and reliably query disparate pools of data via SPARQL will become ever more important. Any resource becomes - potentially - both directly addressable and consistently queryable. A very different picture from that of today's web... where often all you can search for across the Web at large is the user interface of some proprietary database or other. You then need to visit that database, understand its interface, and then ask the question again; this time constrained to the pool of possible answers within that one source.

Take a look at Danny's examples (including one for the Twitter store he built for his article in this month's Talis Platform News) and you begin to understand some of what's possible. Now stretch a bit, and imagine this query capability transposed behind the shiny, curvy-cornered UI of some Web 2.0 application. Suddenly, this application breaks free of the limitations of its own 'database', and is able to reach out across the Web at large to interact with conformant and permissive agglomerations of data, wherever they may be.

See? Told you SPARQL was important.

Item slightly modified version of a post to the Nodalities blog.

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