Middlemash, Middlemarch, Middlemap

The next Mashed Library event was announced a few months ago, but now more details are available. Middlemash is happening at Birmingham City University on 30th November 2009. I hope to see you there.

In discussion with Damyanti Patel, who is organising Middlemash, we thought it would be nice to do a little project in advance of Middlemash. When we brainstormed what we could do I originally suggested that maybe someone had drawn a map of the fictional geography of Middlemarch, and if we could find one, we could make it interactive in some way. Unfortunately a quick search turned up no such map. However, what it did turn up was something equally interesting – this map of relationships between characters in Middlemarch on LibraryThing.

This inspired a new idea – whether this could be represented in RDF somehow. My first thought was FOAF, but initially this seemed limited as it doesn’t allow for the expression of different types of relationship. However, I then came across this post from Ian Davis (this is the first in a series of 3), which used the Relationship vocabulary in addition to FOAF to express more the kind of thing I was looking for.

The resulting RDF is at http://www.meanboyfriend.com/overdue_ideas/middlemash.rdf. However, if you want to explore this is a more user-friendly manner, you probably want to use an RDF viewer. Although there are several you could use, the one I found easiest as a starting point was the Zitgist dataviewer. You should be able to browse the file directly with Zitgist via this link. There are however a couple of issues:

  • Zitgist doesn’t seem to display the whole file, although if you browse through relationships you can view all records evenutally
  • At time of posting I’m having some problems with Zitgist response times, but hopefully these are temporary

This is the first time I’d written any RDF, and I did it by hand, and I was learning as I went along. So I’d be very glad to know what I’ve done wrong, and how to improve it – leave comments on this post please.

I did find some problems with the Relationship vocabulary. It still only expresses a specific range of relationships. It also seems to rely on inferred relationships in some cases. The relationships uncle/aunt/nephew/niece aren’t expressed directly in the relationship vocabulary – presumably on the basis that they could be inferred through other relationships of ‘parentOf’, ‘childOf’ and ‘siblingOf’ (i.e. your uncle is your father’s brother etc.). However, in Middlemarch there are a few characters who are described as related in this manner, but to my knowledge no mention of the intermediary relationships are made. So we know that Edward Causubon has an Aunt Julia, but it is not stated whether she is his father’s or mother’s sister, and further his parents are not mentioned (this is as far as I know, I haven’t read Middlemarch for many years, and I went from SparkNotes and the relationship map on LibraryThing).

Something that seemed odd is that the Relationship vocabulary does allow you explicitly to relate grandparents to grandchildren without relying on the inferrence from two parentOf relathionships.

Another problem, which is one that Ian Davis explores at length in his posts on representing Einsteins biography in RDF is the time element. The relationships I express here aren’t linked to time – so where someone has remarried it is impossible to say from the work I have done here whether they are polygamous or not! I suspect that at least some of this could have been dealt with by adding details like dates of marriages via the Bio vocabulary Ian uses, but I think this would be a problem in terms of the details available from Middlemarch itself (I’m not confident that dates would necessarily be given). It also looked like hard work 🙂

So – there you have it, my first foray into RDF – a nice experiment, and potentially an interesting way of developing representations of literary works in the future?

3 thoughts on “Middlemash, Middlemarch, Middlemap

  1. Owen, this is very interesting. I wondered if you had found any tools that help you to write RDF?

    Going further, I am interested in incorporating RDF in web documents, for which RDFa is presumably the appropriate technology. But again I can’t find any tools to help write or create XHTML+RDFa. Do you know of any?

  2. The quick answer is no! It feels like we are at the same stage as HTML in the mid-nineties when it was all written in notepad. I’m not even completely sure it makes sense to write RDF like this – perhaps it would be better to populate a triple store or possibly a RDBMS with tools to create RDF representations of the data.

    There are a couple of tools at http://esw.w3.org/topic/SemanticWebTools that mention authoring, but I haven’t looked at either.

    We are currently discussing looking at XHTML+RDFa as part of the TELSTAR project that I’m working on – but I think here (as in many cases I guess) if we go this way we will be populating this from custom written code to create an RDFa representation from existing structured (but not in RDF) data.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.