Testing Schema.org output formats

Schema.org squarePart of my efforts working with Google in support of the Schema.org structured web data vocabulary, its extensions, usage and implementation, is to introduce new functionality and facilities on to the Schema.org site.

I have recently concluded a piece of work to improve accessibility to the underlying definition of vocabulary terms in various data formats, which is now available for testing and comment. It is available in a prerelease of the next Schema.org version hosted at webschemas.org – the Schema.org test site.  It is the kind of functionality could benefit from as many eyes as possible to check and comment.

Introduced in the current release (3.1) was the ability to download vocabulary definition files for the core vocabulary and its extensions in triples, quads, json-ld and turtle formats.  Building upon that, the new version, provisionally numbered 3.2, introduces download files in RDF/XML, plus CSV format for vocabulary Types, Properties and Enumeration values.

Book-ttlThere have been requests to make other output formats available for individual terms in addition to the embedded RDFa already available.  In response to these requests, we have introduced per term outputs in csv, triples, json-ld, rdf/xml and turtle format. 

These can be accessed in two ways. Firstly by adding the appropriate suffix (.csv, .nt, .jsonld, .rdf, .ttl) to the term URI:

They are also available using content-negotiation, supplying the appropriate value for Accept in the httpd request header (text/csv, text/plain, application/ld+json, application/rdf+xml, application/x-turtle).

So if you are interested in such things, take a look and let us know what you think about the contents, formats, and accuracy of these outputs.

Hidden Gems in the new Schema.org 3.1 Release

I spend a significant amount of time working on the supporting software, vocabulary contents, and application of Schema.org. So it is with great pleasure, and a certain amount of relief, I share the release of Schema.org 3.1 and share some hidden gems you find in there.

I spend a significant amount of time working with Google folks, especially Dan Brickley, and others on the supporting software, vocabulary contents, and application of Schema.org.  So it is with great pleasure, and a certain amount of relief, I share the announcement of the release of 3.1.

That announcement lists several improvements, enhancements and additions to the vocabulary that appeared in versions 3.0 & 3.1. These include:

  • Health Terms – A significant reorganisation of the extensive collection of medical/health terms, that were introduced back in 2012, into the ‘health-lifesci’ extension, which now contains 99 Types, 179 Properties and 149 Enumeration values.
  • Finance Terms – Following an initiative and work by Financial Industry Business Ontology (FIBO) project (which I have the pleasure to be part of), in support of the W3C Financial Industry Business Ontology Community Group, several terms to improve the capability for describing things such as banks, bank accounts, financial products such as loans, and monetary amounts.
  • Spatial and Temporal and DatasetsCreativeWork now includes spatialCoverage and temporalCoverage which I know my cultural heritage colleagues and clients will find very useful.  Like many enhancements in the Schema.org community, this work came out of a parallel interest, in which  Dataset has received some attention.
  • Hotels and Accommodation – Substantial new vocabulary for describing hotels and accommodation has been added, and documented.
  • Pending Extension – Introduced in version 3.0 a special extension called “pending“, which provides a place for newly proposed schema.org terms to be documented, tested and revised.  The anticipation being that this area will be updated with proposals relatively frequently, in between formal Schema.org releases.
  • How We Work – A HowWeWork document has been added to the site. This comprehensive document details the many aspects of the operation of the community, the site, the vocabulary etc. – a useful way in for casual users through to those who want immerse themselves in the vocabulary its use and development.

For fuller details on what is in 3.1 and other releases, checkout the Releases document.

Hidden Gems

Often working in the depths of the vocabulary, and the site that supports it, I get up close to improvements that on the surface are not obvious which some [of those that immerse themselves] may find interesting that I would like to share:

  • Snappy Performance – The Schema.org site, a Python app hosted on the Google App Engine, is shall we say a very popular site.  Over the last 3-4 releases I have been working on taking full advantage of muti-threaded, multi-instance, memcache, and shared datastore capabilities. Add in page caching imrovements plus an implementation of Etags, and we can see improved site performance which can be best described as snappiness. The only downsides being, to see a new version update you sometimes have to hard reload your browser page, and I have learnt far more about these technologies than I ever thought I would need!
  • Data Downloads – We are often asked for a copy of the latest version of the vocabulary so that people can examine it, develop form it, build tools on it, or whatever takes their fancy.  This has been partially possible in the past, but now we have introduced (on a developers page we hope to expand with other useful stuff in the future – suggestions welcome) a download area for vocabulary definition files.  From here you can download, in your favourite format (Triples, Quads, JSON-LD, Turtle), files containing the core vocabulary, individual extensions, or the whole vocabulary.  (Tip: The page displays the link to the file that will always return the latest version.)
  • Data Model Documentation – Version 3.1 introduced updated contents to the Data Model documentation page, especially in the area of conformance.  I know from working with colleagues and clients, that it is sometimes difficult to get your head around Schema.org’s use of Multi-Typed Entities (MTEs) and the ability to use a Text, or a URL, or Role for any property value.  It is good to now have somewhere to point people when they question such things.
  • Markdown – This is a great addition for those enhancing, developing and proposing updates to the vocabulary.  The rdfs:comment section of term definitions are now passed through a Markdown processor.  This means that any formatting or links to be embedded in term description do not have to be escaped with horrible coding such as & and > etc.  So for example a link can be input as [The Link](http://example.com/mypage) and italic text would be input as *italic*.  The processor also supports WikiLinks style links, which enables the direct linking to a page within the site so [[CreativeWork]] will result in the user being taken directly to the CreativeWork page via a correctly formatted link.   This makes the correct formatting of type descriptions a much nicer experience, as it does my debugging of the definition files. Winking smile

I could go on, but won’t  – If you are new to Schema.org, or very familiar, I suggest you take a look.

A Fundamental Component of a New Web?

Let me explain what is this fundamental component of what I am seeing potentially as a New Web, and what I mean by New Web.

This fundamental component I am talking about you might be surprised to learn is a vocabulary – Schema.org.

cogsbrowser Marketing Hype! I hear you thinking – well at least I didn’t use the tired old ‘Next Generation’ label.

Let me explain what is this fundamental component of what I am seeing potentially as a New Web, and what I mean by New Web.

This fundamental component I am talking about you might be surprised to learn is a vocabulary – Schema.org.  But let me first set the context by explaining my thoughts on this New Web.

Having once been considered an expert on Web 2.0 (I hasten to add by others, not myself) I know how dangerous it can be to attach labels to things.  It tends to spawn screen full’s of passionate opinions on the relevance of the name, date of the revolution, and over detailed analysis of isolated parts of what is a general movement.   I know I am on dangerous ground here!

To my mind something is new when it feels different.  The Internet felt different when the Web (aka HTTP + HTML + browsers) arrived.  The Web felt different (Web 2.0?) when it became more immersive (write as well as read) and visually we stopped trying to emulate in a graphical style what we saw on character terminals. Oh, and yes we started to round our corners. 

There have been many times over the last few years when it felt new – when it suddenly arrived in our pockets (the mobile web) – when the inner thoughts, and eating habits, of more friends that you ever remember meeting became of apparent headline importance (the social web) – when [the contents of] the web broke out of the boundaries of the browser and appeared embedded in every app, TV show, and voice activated device.

The feeling different phase I think we are going through at the moment, like previous times, is building on what went before.  It is exemplified by information [data] breaking out of the boundaries of our web sites and appearing where it is useful for the user. 

library_of_congress We are seeing the tip of this iceberg in the search engine Knowledge Panels, answer boxes, and rich snippets,ebay-rich-snippet   The effect of this being that often your potential user can get what they need without having to find and visit your site – answering questions such as what is the customer service phone number for an organisation; is the local branch open at the moment; give me driving directions to it; what is available and on offer.  Increasingly these interactions can occur without the user even being aware they are using the web – “Siri! Where is my nearest library?
A great way to build relationships with your customers. However a new and interesting challenge for those trying to measure the impact of your web site.

So, what is fundamental to this New Web

There are several things – HTTP, the light-weight protocol designed to transfer text, links and latterly data, across an internet previously used to specific protocols for specific purposes – HTML, that open, standard, easily copied light-weight extensible generic format for describing web pages that all browsers can understand – Microdata, RDFa, JSON, JSON-LD – open standards for easily embedding data into HTML – RDF, an open data format for describing things of any sort, in the form of triples, using shared vocabularies.  Building upon those is Schema.org – an open, [de facto] standard, generic vocabulary for describing things in most areas of interest. 

icon-LOVWhy is one vocabulary fundamental when there are so many others to choose from? Check out the 500+ referenced on the  Linked Open Vocabularies (LOV) site.  Schema.org however differs from most of the others in a few key areas:Schema.org square 

  • Size and scope – its current 642 Types and 992 Properties is significantly larger and covers far more domains of interest than most others.  This means that if you are looking to describe a something, you are highly likely to to find enough to at least start.  Despite its size, it is yet far from capable of describing everything on, or off, the planet.
  • Adoption – it is estimated to be in use on over 12 million sites.  A sample of 10 billion pages showed over 30% containing Schema.org markup.  Checkout this article for more detail: Schema.org: Evolution of Structured Data on the Web – Big data makes common schemas even more necessary. By Guha, Brickley and Macbeth.
  • Evolution – it is under continuous evolutionary development and extension, driven and guided by an open community under the wing of the W3C and accessible in a GitHub repository.
  • Flexibility – from the beginning Schema.org was designed to be used in a choice of your favourite serialisation – Microdata, RDFa, JSON-LD, with the flexibility of allowing values to default to text if you have not got a URI available.
  • Consumers – The major search engines Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex, not only back the open initiative behind Schema.org but actively search out Schema.org markup to add to their Knowledge Graphs when crawling your sites.
  • Guidance – If you search out guidance on supplying structured data to those major search engines, you are soon supplied with recommendations and examples for using Schema.org, such as this from Google.  They even supply testing tools for you to validate your markup.

With this support and adoption, the Schema.org initiative has become self-fulfilling.  If your objective is to share or market structured data about your site, organisation, resources, and or products with the wider world; it would be difficult to come up with a good reason not to use Schema.org.

Is it a fully ontologically correct semantic web vocabulary? Although you can see many semantic web and linked data principles within it, no it is not.  That is not its objective. It is a pragmatic compromise between such things, and the general needs of webmasters with ambitions to have their resources become an authoritative part of the global knowledge graphs, that are emerging as key to the future of the development of search engines and the web they inhabit.

Note that I question if Schema.org is a fundamental component, of what I am feeling is a New Web. It is not the fundamental component, but  one of many that over time will become just the way we do things

Evolving Schema.org in Practice Pt3: Choosing Where to Extend

OK. You have read the previous posts in this series. You have said to yourself I only wish that I could describe [insert you favourite issue here] in Schema.org. You are now inspired to do something about it, or get together with a community of colleagues to address the usefulness of Schema.org for your area of interest. Then comes the inevitable question: Where do I focus my efforts – the core vocabulary or a Hosted Extension or an External Extension?

sq-extending schema In this third part of the series I am going to concentrate less on the science of working with the technology of Schema.org and more on what you might call the art of extension.

It builds on the previous two posts The Bits and Pieces which introduces you to the mechanics of working with the Schema.org repository in GitHub and your own local version; and Working Within the Vocabulary which takes you through the anatomy of the major controlling files for the terms and their examples, that you find in the repository.

Art maybe an over ambitious word for the process that I am going to try and describe. However it is not about rules, required patterns, syntaxes, and file formats – the science; it is about general guidelines, emerging styles & practices, and what feels right.  So art it is.

OK. You have read the previous posts in this series. You have said to yourself I only wish that I could describe [insert you favourite issue here] in Schema.org. You are now inspired to do something about it, or get together with a community of colleagues to address the usefulness of Schema.org for your area of interest.  Then comes the inevitable question…

Where do I focus my efforts – the core vocabulary or a Hosted Extension or an External Extension?

Firstly a bit of background to help answer that question.

The core of the Schema.org vocabulary has evolved since its launch by Google, Bing, and Yahoo! (soon joined by Yandex), in June 2011. By the end of 2015 its term definitions had reached 642 types and 992 properties.  They cover many many sectors commercial, and not, including sport, media, retail, libraries, local businesses, heath, audio, video, TV, movies, reviews, ratings, products, services, offers and actions.  Its generic nature has facilitated is spread of adoption across well over 10 million sites.  For more background I recommend the December 2015 article Schema.org: Evolution of Structured Data on the Web – Big data makes common schemas even more necessary. By Guha, Brickley and Macbeth.

That generic nature however does introduce issues for those in specific sectors wishing to focus in more detail on the entities and relationships specific to their domain whist still being part of, or closely related to, Schema.org.  In the spring of 2015 an Extension Mechanism, consisting of Hosted and External extensions, was introduced to address this.

Reviewed/Hosted Extensions are domain focused extensions hosted on the Schema.org site. They will have been reviewed and discussed by the broad Schema.org community as to style, compatibility with the core vocabulary, and potential adoption.  An extension is allocated its own part of the schema.org namespace – auto.schema.org & bib.schema.org being the first two examples.

External Extensions are created and hosted separate from Schema.org in their own namespace.  Although related to and building upon [extending] the Schema.org vocabulary these extensions are not part of the vocabulary.  I am editor for an early example of such an external extension BiblioGraph.net that predates the launch of the extension mechanism.  gs1logo Much more recently GS1 (The Global Language of Business) have published their External Extension – the GS1 Web Vocabulary at http://gs1.org/voc/.

An example of how gs1.org extends Schema.org can be seen from inspecting the class gs1:WearableProduct which is a subclass of gs1:Product which in turn is defined as an exact match to schema:Product.  Looking at an example property of gs1:Product, gs1:brand we can see that it is defined as a subproperty of schema:brand.  This demonstrates how Schema.org is foundational to GS1.org.

Choosing Where to Extend

This initially depends on what and how much you are wanting to extend.

If all you are thinking of is adding the odd property to an already existent type, or to add another type to the domain and/or range of a property, or improve the description of a type or property; you probably do not need to create an extension.  Raise an issue, and after some thought and discussion, go for it – create the relevant code and associated Pull Request for the Schema.org Gihub repositiory.

The-ThinkerMore substantial extensions require a bit of thought.

When proposing extension to the Schema.org vocabulary the above-described structure provides the extender/developer with three options.  Extend the core; propose a hosted extension; or develop an external extension.  Potentially a proposal could result in a combination of all three.

For example a proposal could be for a new Type (class) to be added to the core, with few or no additional properties other than those inherited from its super type.  In addition more domain focused properties, or subtypes, for that new type could be proposed as part of a hosted extension, and yet more very domain specific ones only being part of an external extension.

Although not an exact science, there are some basic principles behind such choices.  These principles are based upon the broad context and use of Schema.org across the web, the consuming audience for the data that would be marked up; the domain specific knowledge of those that would do the marking up and reviewing the proposal; and the domain specific need for the proposed terms.

Guiding Questions
A decision as to if a proposed term should be in the core, hosted extension or external extension can be aided by the answers to some basic questions:

  • Public or not public? Will the data that would be marked up using the term be normally shared on the web?  Would you expect to find that information on a publicly accessible web page today?If the answer is not public, there is no point in proposing the term for the core or a hosted extension.  It would be defined in an external extension.
  • General or Specific?  Is the level of information to be marked up, or the thing being described, of interest or relevant to non-domain specific consumers?If the answer is general, the term could be a candidate for a core term. For example Train could be considered as a potential new subtype of Vehicle to describe that mode of transport that is relevant for general travel discovery needs.  Whereas SteamTrain and its associated specific properties about driving wheel configuration etc. would be more appropriate to a railway extension.
  • Popularity? How many sites on the web would potentially be expected to make use of these term(s) How many webmasters would find them useful?If the answer is lots, you probably have a candidate for the core. If it is only a few hundred, especially if they would be all in a particular focus of interest, it would be more likely a candidate for a hosted extension. If it is a small number, it might be more appropriate in an external extension.
  • Detailed or Technical? Is the information, or the detailed nature of proposed properties, too technical for general consumption?If yes, the term should be proposed for a hosted or external extension. In the train example above, the fact that a steam train is being referenced could be contained in the text based description property of a Train type. Whereas the type of steam engine configuration could be a defined value for a property in an external extension.

Evolutionary Steps

When defining and then proposing enhancements to the core of Schema, or for hosted extensions, there is a temptation to take an area of concern, analyse it in detail and then produce a fully complete proposal.   Experience has demonstrated that it is beneficial to gain feedback on the use and adoption of terms before building upon them to extend and add more detailed capability.

Based on that experience the way of extending Schema.org should be by steps that build upon each other in stages.  For example introducing a new subtype with few if any new specific properties.  Initial implementers can use textual description properties to qualify its values in this initial form.  In a later releases more specific properties can be proposed, their need being justified by the take-up, visibility, and use of the subtype on sites across the web.

Closing Summary

Several screen-full’s and a few weeks ago, this started out as a simple post in an attempt to cover off some of the questions I am often asked about how Schema.org is structured, and how it can be made more appropriate for this project or that domain.  Hopefully you find the distillation of my experience and my personal approach, across these three resulting posts on Evolving Schema.org in Practice, enlightening and helpful.  Especially if you are considering proposing a change, enhancement or extension to Schema.org.

My association with Schema.org – applying the vocabulary; making personal proposals; chairing W3C Community groups (Schema Bib Extend, Schema Architypes, The Tourism Structured Web Data Community Group); participating in others (Schema Course extension Community Group, Sport Schema Community Group, Financial Industry Business Ontology Community Group, Schema.org Community Group); being editor of the BiblioGraph.net extension vocabulary; working with various organisations such as OCLC, Google’s Schema.org team, and the Financial Industry Business Ontology (FIBO); and preparing & presenting workshops & keynotes at general data and industry specific events –  has taught me that there is much similarity between, on the surface disparate, industries and sectors when it comes to preparing structured data to be broadly shared and understood.

Often that similarity is hidden behind sector specific views, understanding, and issues in dealing with the open wide web of structured data where they are just another interested group, looking to benefit from shared recognition of common schemas by the major search engine organisations.  But that is all part of the joy and challenge I relish when entering a new domain and meeting new interested and motivated people.

Of course enhancing, extending and evolving the Schema.org vocabulary is only one part of the story.  Actually applying it for benefit to aid the discovery of your organisation, your resources and the web sites that reference them is the main goal for most.

I get the feeling that there maybe another blog post series I should be considering!

Evolving Schema.org in Practice Pt2: Working Within the Vocabulary

Having covered the working environment; I now intend to describe some of the important files that make up Schema.org and how you can work with them to create or update, examples and term definitions within your local forked version.

Thing_rdfa In the previous post in this series Pt1: The Bits and Pieces I stepped through the process of obtaining your own fork of the Schema.org GitHub repository; working on it locally; uploading your version for sharing; and proposing those changes to the Schema.org community in the form of a GitHub Pull Request.

Having covered the working environment; in this post I now intend to describe some of the important files that make up Schema.org and how you can work with them to create or update, examples and term definitions within your local forked version in preparation for proposing them in a Pull Request.

files The File Structure
If you inspect the repository you will see a simple directory structure.  At the top level you will find a few files sporting a .py suffix.  These contain the python application code to run the site you see at http://schema.org.  They load the configuration files, build an in-memory version of the vocabulary that are used to build the html pages containing the definitions of the terms, schema listings, examples displays, etc.  They are joined by a file named app.yaml, which contains the configuration used by the Google App Engine to run that code.

At this level there are some directories containing supporting files: docs & templates contain static content for some pages; tests & scripts are used in the building and testing of the site; data contains the files that define the vocabulary, its extensions, and the examples used to demonstrate its use.

The Data Files
The data directory itself contains various files and directories.  schema.rdfa is the most important file, it contains the core definitions for the majority of the vocabulary.  Although, most of the time, you will see schema.rdfa as the only file with a .rdfa suffix in the data directory, the application will look for and load any .rdfa files it finds here.  This is a very useful feature when working on a local version – you can keep your enhancements together only merging them into the main schema.rdfa file when ready to propose them.

Also in the data directory you will find an examples.txt file and several others ending with –examples.txt.  These contain the examples used on the term pages, the application loads all of them.

Amongst the directories in data, there are a couple of important ones.  releases contains snapshots of versions of the vocabulary from version 2.0 onwards.  datafilesThe directory named ext contains the files that define the vocabulary extensions and examples that relate to them.  Currently you will find auto and bib directories within ext, corresponding to the extensions currently supported.  The format within these directories follows the basic pattern of the data directory – one or more .rdfa files containing the term definitions and –examples.txt files containing relevant examples.

Getting to grips with the RDFa

Enough preparation let’s get stuck into some vocabulary!

Take your favourite text/code editing application and open up schema.rdfa. You will notice two things – it is large [well over 12,500 lines!], and it is in the format of a html file.  Schema_html This second attribute makes it easy for non-technical viewing – you can open it with a browser.

Once you get past a bit of CSS formatting information and a brief introduction text, you arrive [about 35 lines down] at the first couple of definitions – for Thing and CreativeWork.

The Anatomy of a Type Definition
Standard RDFa (RDF in attributes) html formatting is used to define each term.  A vocabulary Type is defined as a RDFa marked up <div> element with its attributes contained in marked up <span> elements.

The Thing Type definition:

The attributes of the <div> element indicate that this is the definition of a Type (typeof=”rdfs:Class”) and its canonical identifier (resource=”http://schema.org/Thing”).  The <span> elements filling in the details – it has a label (rdfs:label) of ‘Thing‘ and a descriptive comment (rdfs:comment) of ‘The most generic type of item‘.  There is one formatting addition to the <span> containing the label.  The class=”h” is there to make the labels stand out when viewing in a browser – it has no direct relevance to the structure of the vocabulary.

The CreativeWork Type definition

Inspecting the CreativeWork definition reveals a few other attributes of a Type defined in <span> elements.  The rdfs:subClassOf property, with the associated href on the <a> element, indicates that http://schema.org/CreativeWork is a sub-type of http://schema.org/Thing.

Acknowledge Finally there is the dc:source property and its associated href value.  This has no structural impact on the vocabulary, its purpose is to acknowledge and reference the source of the inspiration for the term.  It is this reference that results in the display of a paragraph under the Acknowledgements section of a term page.

Defining Properties
The properties that can be used with a Type are defined in a very similar way to the Types themselves.

The name Property definition:

The attributes of the <div> element indicate that this is the definition of a Property (typeof=”rdf:Property”) and its canonical identifier (resource=”http://schema.org/name”).  As with Types the <span> elements fill in the details.

name Properties have two specific <span> elements to define the domain and range of a property.  If these concepts are new to you, the concepts are basically simple.  The Type(s) defined as being in the domain of a property are are those for which the property is a valid attribute.  The Type(s) defined as being in the range of a property, are those that expected values for that property.  So inspecting the above name example we can see that name is a valid property of the Thing Type with an expected value type of Text.  Also specific to property definitions is rdfs:subPropertyOf which defies that one property is a sub-property another.  For html/RDFa format reasons this is defined using a link entity thus: <link property=”rdfs:subPropertyOf” href=”http://schema.org/workFeatured” />.

Those used to defining other RDF vocabularies may question the use of  http://schema.org/domainIncludes and http://schema.org/rangeIncludes to define these relationships. This is a pragmatic approach to producing a flexible data model for the web.  For a more in-depth explanation I refer you to the Schema.org Data Model documentation.

Not an exhaustive tutorial in editing the defining RDFa but hopefully enough to get you going!


Making Examplesexamples

One of the most powerful features of the Schema.org documentation is the Examples section on most of the term pages.  These provide mark up examples for most of the terms in the vocabulary, that can be used and built upon by those adding Schema.org data to their web pages.  These examples represent how the html of a page or page section may be marked up.  To set context, the examples are provided in several serialisations – basic html, html plus Microdata, html plus RDFa, and JSON-LD.  As the objective is to aid the understanding of how Schema.org may be used, it is usual to provide simple basic html formatting in the examples.

Examples in File
As described earlier, the source for examples are held in files with a –examples.txt suffix, stored in the data directory or in individual extension directories.

One or more examples per file are defined in a very simplistic format.

An example begins in the file with a line that starts with TYPES:, such as this:

This example has a unique identifier prefixed with a # character, there should be only one of these per example.  These identifiers are intended for future feedback mechanisms and as such are not particularly controlled.  I recommend you crate your own when creating your examples.  Next comes a comma separated list of term names.  Adding a term to this list will result in the example appearing on the page for that term.  This is true for both Types and Properties.

Next comes four sections each preceded by a line containing a single label in the following order: PRE-MARKUP:, MICRODATA:, RDFA:, JSON:.  Each section ends when the next label line, or the end of the file is reached.  The contents of each section of the example is then inserted into the appropriate tabbed area on the term page.  The process that does this is not a sophisticated one, there are no error or syntax checking involved – if you want to insert the text of the Gettysburg Address as your RDFa example, it will let you do it.

I am not going to provide tutorials for html, Microdata, RDFa, or JSON-LD here there are a few of those about.  I will however recommend a tool I use to convert between these formats when creating examples.  RDF Translatorrdftranslator is a simple online tool that will validate and translate between RDFa, Microdata, RDF/XML, N3, N-Triples, and JSON-LD.  A suggestion, to make your examples as informative possible – when converting between formats, especially when converting to JSON-LD, most conversion tools reorder he statements. It is worth investing some time in ensuring that the mark up order in your example is consistent for all serialisations.

Hopefully this post will clear away some of mystery of how Schema.org is structured and managed. If you have proposals in mind to enhance and extend the vocabulary or examples, have a go, see if thy make sense in a version on your own system, suggest them to the community on Github.

In my next post I will look more at extensions, Hosted and External, and how you work with those, including some hints on choosing where to propose changes – in the core vocabulary, in a hosted or an external extension.

Schema.org – Extending Benefits

I find myself in New York for the day on my way back from the excellent Smart Data 2015 Conference in San Jose. It’s a long story about red-eye flights and significant weekend savings which I won’t bore you with, but it did result in some great chill-out time in Central Park to reflect on the week.

In its long auspicious history the SemTech, Semantic Tech & Business, and now Smart Data Conference has always attracted a good cross section of the best and brightest in Semantic Web, Linked Data, Web, and associated worlds. This year was no different. In my new role as an independent working with OCLC and at Google.

I was there on behalf of OCLC to review significant developments with Schema.org in general – now with 640 Types (Classes) & 988 properties – used on over 10 Million web sites.

I find myself in New York for the day on my way back from the excellent Smart Data 2015 Conference in San Jose. It’s a long story about red-eye flights and significant weekend savings which I won’t bore you with, but it did result in some great chill-out time in Central Park to reflect on the week.

In its long auspicious history the SemTech, Semantic Tech & Business, and now Smart Data Conference has always attracted a good cross section of the best and brightest in Semantic Web, Linked Data, Web, and associated worlds. This year was no different for me in my new role as an independent working with OCLC and at Google.

I was there on behalf of OCLC to review significant developments with Schema.org in general –  now with 640 Types (Classes) & 988 properties – used on over 10 Million web sites.  Plus the pioneering efforts OCLC are engaged with, publishing Schema.org data in volume from WorldCat.org and via APIs in their products.  Check out my slides:

By mining the 300+ million records in WorldCat to identify, describe, and publish approx. 200 million Work entity descriptions, and [soon to be shared] 90+ million Person entity descriptions, this pioneering continues.

These are not only significant steps forward for the bibliographic sector, but a great example of a pattern to be followed by most sectors:

  • Identify the entities in your data
  • Describe them well using Schema.org
  • Publish embedded in html
  • Work with, do not try to replace, the domain specific vocabularies – Bibframe in the library world
  • Work with the community to extend an enhance Schema.org to enable better representation of your resources
  • If Schema.org is still not broad enough for you, build an extension to it that solves your problems whilst still maintaining the significant benefits of sharing using Schema.org – in the library world’s case this was BiblioGraph.net

This has not been an overnight operation for OCLC. If you would like to read more about it, I can recommend the recently published Library Linked Data in the Cloud – Godby, Wang, Mixter.

Extending Schema.org
schemaorg1.jpgThrough OCLC and now Google I have been working with and around Schema.org since 2012. The presentation at Smart Data arrived at an opportune time to introduce and share some major developments with the vocabulary and the communities that surround it.

A couple of months back, Version 2.0 of Schema.org introduced the potential for extensions to the vocabulary. With Version 2.1, released the week before the conference, this potential became a reality with the introduction of bib.schema.org and auto.schema.org.

On a personal note the launch of these extensions, bib.schema.org in particular, is the culmination of a bit of a journey that started a couple of years ago with forming of the Schema Bib Extend W3C Community Group (SchemaBibEx) which had great success in proposing additions and changes to the core vocabulary.

A journey that then took in the formation of the BiblioGraph.net extension vocabulary which demonstrated both how to build a domain focused vocabulary on top of Schema.org as well as how the open source software, that powers the Schema.org site, could be forked for such an effort. These two laying the ground work for defining how hosted and external extensions will operate, and for SchemaBibex to be one of the first groups to propose a hosted extension.

Finally this last month working at Google with Dan Brickley on Schema.org, has been a bit of a blur as I brushed up my Python skills to turn the potential in version 2.0 in to the reality of fully integrated and operational extensions in version 2.1. And to get it all done in time to talk about at Smart Data was the icing on the cake.

Of course things are not stoping there. On the not too distant horizon are:

  • The final acceptance of bib.schema.org & auto.schema.org – currently they are in final review.
  • SchemaBibEx can now follow up this initial version of bib.schema.org with items from its backlog.
  • New extension proposals are already in the works such as: health.schema.org, archives.schema.org, fibo.schema.org.
  • More work on the software to improve the navigation and helpfulness of the site for those looking to understand and adopt Schema.org and/or the extensions.
  • The checking of the capability for the software to host external extensions without too much effort.
  • And of course the continuing list of proposals and fixes for the core vocabulary and the site itself.

I believe we are on the cusp of a significant step forward for Schema.org as it becomes ubiquitous across the web; more organisations, encouraged by extensions, prepare to publish their data; and the SEO community recognise  proof of it actually working – but more of that in the next post.

Schema.org 2.0

About a month ago Version 2.0 of the Schema.org vocabulary hit the streets. But does this warrant the version number clicking over from 1.xx to 2.0?

schema-org1 About a month ago Version 2.0 of the Schema.org vocabulary hit the streets.

This update includes loads of tweaks, additions and fixes that can be found in the release information.  The automotive folks have got new vocabulary for describing Cars including useful properties such as numberofAirbags, fuelEfficiency, and knownVehicleDamages. New property mainEntityOfPage (and its inverse, mainEntity) provide the ability to tell the search engine crawlers which thing a web page is really about.  With new type ScreeningEvent to support movie/video screenings, and a gtin12 property for Product, amongst others there is much useful stuff in there.

But does this warrant the version number clicking over from 1.xx to 2.0?

These new types and properties are only the tip of the 2.0 iceberg.  There is a heck of a lot of other stuff going on in this release that apart from these additions.  Some of it in the vocabulary itself, some of it in the potential, documentation, supporting software, and organisational processes around it.

Sticking with the vocabulary for the moment, there has been a bit of cleanup around property names. As the vocabulary has grown organically since its release in 2011, inconsistencies and conflicts between different proposals have been introduced.  So part of the 2.0 effort has included some rationalisation.  For instance the Code type is being superseded by SoftwareSourceCode – the term code has many different meanings many of which have nothing to do with software; surface has been superseded by artworkSurface and area is being superseded by serviceArea, for similar reasons. Check out the release information for full details.  If you are using any of the superseded terms there is no need to panic as the original terms are still valid but with updated descriptions to indicate that they have been superseded.  However you are encouraged to moved towards the updated terminology as convenient.  The question of what is in which version brings me to an enhancement to the supporting documentation.  Starting with Version 2.0 there will be published a snapshot view of the full vocabulary – here is http://schema.org/version/2.0.  So if you want to refer to a term at a particular version you now can.

CreativeWork_usage How often is Schema being used? – is a question often asked. A new feature has been introduced to give you some indication.  Checkout the description of one of the newly introduced properties mainEntityOfPage and you will see the following: ‘Usage: Fewer than 10 domains‘.  Unsurprisingly for a newly introduced property, there is virtually no usage of it yet.  If you look at the description for the type this term is used with, CreativeWork, you will see ‘Usage: Between 250,000 and 500,000 domains‘.  Not a direct answer to the question, but a good and useful indication of the popularity of particular term across the web.

In the release information you will find the following cryptic reference: ‘Fix to #429: Implementation of new extension system.’

This refers to the introduction of the functionality, on the Schema.org site, to host extensions to the core vocabulary.  The motivation for this new approach to extending is explained thus:

Schema.org provides a core, basic vocabulary for describing the kind of entities the most common web applications need. There is often a need for more specialized and/or deeper vocabularies, that build upon the core. The extension mechanisms facilitate the creation of such additional vocabularies.
With most extensions, we expect that some small frequently used set of terms will be in core schema.org, with a long tail of more specialized terms in the extension.

As yet there are no extensions published.  However, there are some on the way.

As Chair of the Schema Bib Extend W3C Community Group I have been closely involved with a proposal by the group for an initial bibliographic extension (bib.schema.org) to Schema.org.  The proposal includes new Types for Chapter, Collection, Agent, Atlas, Newspaper & Thesis, CreativeWork properties to describe the relationship between translations, plus types & properties to describe comics.  I am also following the proposal’s progress through the system – a bit of a learning exercise for everyone.  Hopefully I can share the news in the none too distant future that bib will be one of the first released extensions.

W3C Community Group for Schema.org
A subtle change in the way the vocabulary, it’s proposals, extensions and direction can be followed and contributed to has also taken place.  The creation of the Schema.org Community Group has now provided an open forum for this.

So is 2.0 a bit of a milestone?  Yes taking all things together I believe it is. I get the feeling that Schema.org is maturing into the kind of vocabulary supported by a professional community that will add confidence to those using it and recommending that others should.

The role of Role in Schema.org

This post is about an unusual, but very useful, aspect of the Schema.org vocabulary — the Role type.

schema-org1 Schema.org is basically a simple vocabulary for describing stuff, on the web.  Embed it in your html and the search engines will pick it up as they crawl, and add it to their structured data knowledge graphs.  They even give you three formats to chose from — Microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD — when doing the embedding.  I’m assuming, for this post, that the benefits of being part of the Knowledge Graphs that underpin so called Semantic Search, and hopefully triggering some Rich Snippet enhanced results display as a side benefit, are self evident.

The vocabulary itself is comparatively easy to apply once you get your head around it — find the appropriate Type (Person, CreativeWork, Place, Organization, etc.) for the thing you are describing, check out the properties in the documentation and code up the ones you have values for.  Ideally provide a URI (URL in Schema.org) for a property that references another thing, but if you don’t have one a simple string will do.

There are a few strangenesses, that hit you when you first delve into using the vocabulary.  For example, there is no problem in describing something that is of multiple types — a LocalBussiness is both an Organisation and a Place.  This post is about another unusual, but very useful, aspect of the vocabulary — the Role type.

At first look at the documentation, Role looks like a very simple type with a handful of properties.  On closer inspection, however, it doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the vocabulary.  That is because it is capable of fitting almost anywhere.  Anywhere there is a relationship between one type and another, that is.  It is a special case type that allows a relationship, say between a Person and an Organization, to be given extra attributes.  Some might term this as a form of annotation.

So what need is this satisfying you may ask.  It must be a significant need to cause the creation of a special case in the vocabulary.  Let me walk through a case, that is used in a Schema.org Blog post, to explain a need scenario and how Role satisfies that need.

Starting With American Football

Say you are describing members of an American Football Team.  Firstly you would describe the team using the SportsOrganization type, giving it a name, sport, etc. Using RDFa:

Then describe a player using a Person type, providing name, gender, etc.:

Now lets relate them together by adding an athlete relationship to the Person description:


Let’s take a look of the data structure we have created using Turtle – not a html markup syntax but an excellent way to visualise the data structures isolated from the html:

So we now have Chucker Roberts described as an athlete on the Touchline Gods team.  The obvious question then is how do we describe the position he plays in the team.  We could have extended the SportsOrganization type with a property for every position, but scaling that across every position for every team sport type would have soon ended up with far more properties than would have been sensible, and beyond the maintenance scope of a generic vocabulary such as Schema.org.

This is where Role comes in handy.  Regardless of the range defined for any property in Schema.org, it is acceptable to provide a Role as a value.  The convention then is to use a property with the same property name, that the Role is a value for, to then remake the connection to the referenced thing (in this case the Person).  In simple terms we have have just inserted a Role type between the original two descriptions.


This indirection has not added much you might initially think, but Role has some properties of its own (startDate, endDate, roleName) that can help us qualify the relationship between the SportsOrganization and the athlete (Person).  For the field of organizations there is a subtype of Role (OrganizationRole) which allows the relationship to be qualified slightly more.



and in Turtle:

Beyond American Football

So far I have just been stepping through the example provided in the Schema.org blog post on this.  Let’s take a look at an example from another domain – the one I spend my life immersed in – libraries.

There are many relationships between creative works that libraries curate and describe (books, articles, theses, manuscripts, etc.) and people & organisations that are not covered adequately by the properties available (author, illustrator,  contributor, publisher, character, etc.) in CreativeWork and its subtypes.  By using Role, in the same way as in the sports example above,  we have the flexibility to describe what is needed.

Take a book (How to be Orange: an alternative Dutch assimilation course) authored by Gregory Scott Shapiro, that has a preface written by Floor de Goede. As there is no writerOfPreface property we can use, the best we could do is to is to put Floor de Goede in as a contributor.  However by using Role can qualify the contribution role that he played to be that of the writer of preface.


In Turtle:

and RDFa:

You will note in this example I have made use of URLs, to external resources – VIAF for defining the Persons and the Library of Congress relator codes – instead of defining them myself as strings.  I have also linked the book to it’s Work definition so that someone exploring the data can discover other editions of the same work.

Do I always use Role?
In the above example I relate a book to two people, the author and the writer of preface.  I could have linked to the author via another role with the roleName being ‘Author’ or <http://id.loc.gov/vocabulary/relators/aut>.  Although possible, it is not a recommended approach.  Wherever possible use the properties defined for a type.  This is what data consumers such as search engines are going to be initially looking for.

One last example

To demonstrate the flexibility of using the Role type here is the markup that shows a small diversion in my early career:

This demonstrates the ability of Role to be used to provide added information about most relationships between entities, in this case the employee relationship. Often Role itself is sufficient, with the ability for the vocabulary to be extended with subtypes of Role to provide further use-case specific properties added.

Whenever possible use URLs for roleName
In the above example, it is exceedingly unlikely that there is a citeable definition on the web, I could link to for the roleName. So it is perfectly acceptable to just use the string “Keyboards Roadie”.  However to help the search engines understand unambiguously what role you are describing, it is always better to use a URL.  If you can’t find one, for example in the Library of Congress Relater Codes, or in Wikidata, consider creating one yourself in Wikipedia or Wikidata for others to share. Another spin-off benefit for using URIs (URLs) is that they are language independent, regardless of the language of the labels in the data  the URI always means the same thing.  Sources like Wikidata often have names and descriptions for things defined in multiple languages, which can be useful in itself.

Final advice
This very flexible mechanism has many potential uses when describing your resources in Schema.org. There is always a danger in over using useful techniques such as this. Be sure that there is not already a way within Schema, or worth proposing to those that look after the vocabulary, before using it.

Good luck in your role in describing your resources and the relationships between them using Schema.org

Baby Steps Towards A Library Graph

image It is one thing to have a vision, regular readers of this blog will know I have them all the time, its yet another to see it starting to form through the mist into a reality. Several times in the recent past I have spoken of the some of the building blocks for bibliographic data to play a prominent part in the Web of Data.  The Web of Data that is starting to take shape and drive benefits for everyone.  Benefits that for many are hiding in plain site on the results pages of search engines. In those informational panels with links to people’s parents, universities, and movies, or maps showing the location of mountains, and retail outlets; incongruously named Knowledge Graphs.

Building blocks such as Schema.org; Linked Data in WorldCat.org; moves to enhance Schema.org capabilities for bibliographic resource description; recognition that Linked Data has a beneficial place in library data and initiatives to turn that into a reality; the release of Work entity data mined from, and linked to, the huge WorldCat.org data set.

OK, you may say, we’ve heard all that before, so what is new now?

As always it is a couple of seemingly unconnected events that throw things into focus.

Event 1:  An article by David Weinberger in the DigitalShift section of Library Journal entitled Let The Future Go.  An excellent article telling libraries that they should not be so parochially focused in their own domain whilst looking to how they are going serve their users’ needs in the future.  Get our data out there, everywhere, so it can find its way to those users, wherever they are.  Making it accessible to all.  David references three main ways to provide this access:

  1. APIs – to allow systems to directly access our library system data and functionality
  2. Linked Datacan help us open up the future of libraries. By making clouds of linked data available, people can pull together data from across domains
  3. The Library Graph –  an ambitious project libraries could choose to undertake as a group that would jump-start the web presence of what libraries know: a library graph. A graph, such as Facebook’s Social Graph and Google’s Knowledge Graph, associates entities (“nodes”) with other entities

(I am fortunate to be a part of an organisation, OCLC, making significant progress on making all three of these a reality – the first one is already baked into the core of OCLC products and services)

It is the 3rd of those, however, that triggered recognition for me.  Personally, I believe that we should not be focusing on a specific ‘Library Graph’ but more on the ‘Library Corner of a Giant Global Graph’  – if graphs can have corners that is.  Libraries have rich specialised resources and have specific needs and processes that may need special attention to enable opening up of our data.  However, when opened up in context of a graph, it should be part of the same graph that we all navigate in search of information whoever and wherever we are.

Event 2: A posting by ZBW Labs Other editions of this work: An experiment with OCLC’s LOD work identifiers detailing experiments in using the OCLC WorldCat Works Data.

ZBW contributes to WorldCat, and has 1.2 million oclc numbers attached to it’s bibliographic records. So it seemed interesting, how many of these editions link to works and furthermore to other editions of the very same work.

The post is interesting from a couple of points of view.  Firstly the simple steps they took to get at the data, really well demonstrated by the command-line calls used to access the data – get OCLCNum data from WorldCat.or in JSON format – extract the schema:exampleOfWork link to the Work – get the Work data from WorldCat, also in JSON – parse out the links to other editions of the work and compare with their own data.  Command-line calls that were no doubt embedded in simple scripts.

Secondly, was the implicit way that the corpus of WorldCat Work entity descriptions, and their canonical identifying URIs, is used as an authoritative hub for Works and their editions.  A concept that is not new in the library world, we have been doing this sort of things with names and person identities via other authoritative hubs, such as VIAF, for ages.  What is new here is that it is a hub for Works and their relationships, and the bidirectional nature of those relationships – work to edition, edition to work – in the beginnings of a library graph linked to other hubs for subjects, people, etc.

The ZBW Labs experiment is interesting in its own way – simple approach enlightening results.  What is more interesting for me, is it demonstrates a baby step towards the way the Library corner of that Global Web of Data will not only naturally form (as we expose and share data in this way – linked entity descriptions), but naturally fit in to future library workflows with all sorts of consequential benefits.

The experiment is exactly the type of initiative that we hoped to stimulate by releasing the Works data.  Using it for things we never envisaged, delivering unexpected value to our community.  I can’t wait to hear about other initiatives like this that we can all learn from.

So who is going to be doing this kind of thing – describing entities and sharing them to establish these hubs (nodes) that will form the graph.  Some are already there, in the traditional authority file hubs: The Library of Congress LC Linked Data Service for authorities and vocabularies (id.loc.gov), VIAF, ISNI, FAST, Getty vocabularies, etc.

As previously mentioned Work is only the first of several entity descriptions that are being developed in OCLC for exposure and sharing.  When others, such as Person, Place, etc., emerge we will have a foundation of part of a library graph – a graph that can and will be used, and added to, across the library domain and then on into the rest of the Global Web of Data.  An important authoritative corner, of a corner, of the Giant Global Graph.

As I said at the start these are baby steps towards a vision that is forming out of the mist.  I hope you and others can see it too.

(Toddler image: Harumi Ueda)