One of the goals of the Silkworm project is to enable interoperability between disparate content and services. Our vision is a unified system of discovering and accessing content wherever it might be. One track of our research in this area is in content descriptions which inevitably involves the most widespread metadata format: Dublin Core. It’s interesting to examine how the Dublin Core has achieved its popularity and today at the Dublin Core conference, Thomas Baker of the DCMI described his view of this success using the metaphor of a pidgin language. Wikipedia defines pidgin as a
name given to any language created, usually spontaneously, out of a mixture of other languages as a means of communication between speakers of different tongues.
In Dublin Core the crucial part is the “core” itself which is small and general enough to allow many different related concepts to be covered by the terms specified. These form the words in the pidgin language, the basis of the shared semantics. They are supplemented by a basic grammar of subject, verb and object which allows sentences to be constucted from those words. The sentences can be encoded in many ways such as HTML meta tags, RDF or XML profiles, each providing a mapping back to the basic grammar.
Once these basic parts are in place all kinds of jargons and styles belonging to different communities can evolve on top of the pidgin language. Provided each jargon uses the basic grammar and relates its terms back to the core pidgin words it becomes possible to interoperate between the communities. Each jargon might have several diferent types of title but because these can be related back to the core concept of “title” each community can at least read one anothers descriptions and make reference to them from their own systems.
This model of interoperability is inherently scalable because it devolves the specialisations to the communities that are best placed to define them. This is exactly the model we are seeking to create for Silkworm. We don’t believe that it is possible to have a single format or schema to describe all the content or services in the world, but we think it is possible to enable interoperability through agreeing simple terms and processes in a decentralised manner.