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news and thoughts on and around the development of the iCite net
by Jay Fienberg

FOAF gets my OK vote

posted: Jul 1, 2003 11:18:09 PM

Last week, I posted some concerns about FOAF in FOAF barn raising / autodiscovery link. My basic concern was that I wasn't figuring out how to do much with FOAF, and I was wondering if others were stuck too, since they didn't seem to be doing much with it either.

In response to my post, I got some good comments from Danny Ayers and Dan Brickley. With their encouragement (and help from Jim Leh, more below on that), today I made a good leap with FOAF. Here is what I did.

Danny pointed me to the FOAF Explorer where I could see the explorer's user interface to Danny's FOAF file. Danny had added me to his FOAF file, so I am listed there.

For my own immersion deeper into FOAF, I decided that today I would add Danny and Marc Canter to my FOAF file.

While looking at FOAF Explorer, I noticed it links to foafnaut, which requires an SVG browser, like the Adobe SVG plugin for IE and Netscape 4. It took me a little while to get this to work, because I use Mozilla.

So, while playing with FOAF Explorer and foafnaut, I started to have various questions about FOAF and what I was doing in my FOAF file. Here is how I got good answers and help with these:

From FOAF Explorer, I found FOAF Tools. The Add New Friend tool was used to take my existing FOAF file and add entries for Danny and Marc, based on my having the URIs to their FOAF files. I found these on the FOAF Bulletin Board wiki, where I also added a link to my own FOAF file.

Another tool I ended up using is the sha1ify tool to produce an sha1sum of my mbox. This tool can take an email address and return a sha1sum, or can read an existing FOAF file with an mbox entry and return the sha1sum.

When I got two different results from sha1sum tool between my entering an email address and the tool reading my existing FOAF file, I turned to the FOAF IRC chat (#FOAF), where I found Jim Leh, who helped me with this and a bunch more things.

So, the answer to the sha1sum question is: what is summed is the email address plus the protocol (mailto:). In my case, the input value is: "". After Jim answered this question for me, I recognized that he was the creator of foafnaut, so I asked him some questions about foafnaut.

The big question I had about foafnaut was how to get my updated FOAF file included in it. Jim gave me the URL for manual updating of the foafnaut database.

This updating led Jim to point out several errors in my FOAF file, all of which occurred because I was cutting and pasting things out of other people's FOAF files and either forgot to reconcile the namespaces or otherwise pasted values from their files that conflicted with mine (notably, I listed my nearest airport as San Francisco but also had data that suggested it was Pisa, since I copied this section originally from Danny's file).

With Jim's help, I am now represented in foafnaut as an animated graph of connections between myself and Danny, Marc, and Jim. (Note again, you need an SVG viewer to see this.)

So, while adding Danny and Marc to my FOAF file, I ended up "knowing" Jim as well, and added him too. Based on seeing the info in Jim's FOAF file, I also added my Myers Briggs code, INTP, which coincidentally is the same as Jim's.

I also created FOAF entries for this blog's RSS 1.0 feeds, copying from Dan Brickley's FOAF file as an example.

Finally, I updated my home page on this site with links to my place in FOAF Explorer and foafnaut, plus double-checking that the FOAF autodiscovery link is correct. There is also a FOAF Explorer bookmarklet that works with this autodiscovery link, FYI.

So, I hope it is not too un-semantic web that I needed all of these visual human user interfaces to feel like FOAF was happening. I mean, I know FOAF is for machines, but I needed to see the machines ;-)

I definitely feel inspired now about outputting FOAF from iCites. I think that the guaranteed cross-referencing of links in iCites (i.e., an automatic trackback / pingback, two-way link kind of thing) might aid in people adding their friends to their FOAF files.

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Comments and Tracbacks

Comment by: Marc Canter ·
posted: Jul 3, 2003 9:33:20 AM

You go dude. Time stamp on how absurd this world is - right now. Now to make it better!

Comment by: Phil Wilson ·
posted: Jul 3, 2003 4:17:50 PM

Really glad to hear you made decent progress, and that the guys were there to give you support. The 'SVG in Mozilla' issue is a really annoying one, but once past it, FOAF has some really cool stuff to offer.

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