Balisage Paper: Reconsidering Conventional Markup for Knowledge Representation
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
David Dubin is a Research Associate Professor at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Champaign, Illinois. David's research interests are in issues of expression and encoding in documents and digital information resources.
David J. Birnbaum
University of Pittsburgh
David J. Birnbaum is Professor and Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh. He has been involved in the study of electronic text technology since the mid-1980s, has delivered presentations at a variety of electronic text technology conferences, and has served on the board of the Association for Computers and the Humanities, the editorial board of Markup Languages: Theory and Practice, and the Text Encoding Initiative Council. Much of his electronic text work intersects with his research in medieval Slavic manuscript studies, but he also often writes about issues in the philosophy of markup.
Copyright © 2008 by the authors. Used with permission.
The main attraction of semantic web technologies such as RDF and OWL over conventional markup is the support those tools provide for expressing precise semantics. Formal grounding for RDF-based languages (in, for example, description logics) and their integration with logic programming tools are guided and constrained by issues of decidability and the tractability of computations. Users of these technologies are invited to use less expressive representations, and thereby work within those constraints. Such compromises seem reasonable when considering the roles automated reasoning agents are expected to play by the semantic web community. But where expectations differ, it may be useful to reconsider using conventional markup and inferencing methods that have been applied with success despite their theoretical weaknesses. We illustrate these issues with a case study from manuscript studies and textual transmission.