in General

Profiling GML for RSS/Atom, RDF and Web developers

I spent some time yesterday talking with Ron Lake about GML, RDF, RSS and other acronyms. GML was originally an RDF application, and various RDFisms can still be seen in the design. I learned a fair bit about GML, and about its extensibility and profiling mechanisms.

We discussed some possibilities for sharing data between GML, RSS/Atom and RDF environments. In particular, two options: RDF inside GML; and RDFized GML.

The possibility of embedding islands of RDF inside GML (eg. the GML for a restaurant might use RDF for restaurant-review or menu markup) is interesting, as would allow GML documents to use any RDF vocabulary to describe the features on a map. Currently, such extension data typically requires the creation of a custom XML Schema. The other option, “RDFized GML”, is to explore the creation of an RDF vocabulary that allows some useful subset of GML data to be used in RDF. I’ll come back to this in a minute.

While GML comes from the world of professional GIS, its influence is being felt more widely: Google Earth (formerly Keyhole) uses something called KML, which bears a great many similarities with GML. Meanwhile in the RDF and RSS/Atom world, the very basic addition of “geo:lat” and “geo:long” tagging (sometimes using the W3C SemWeb IG WGS_84 namespace) has got a number of toolmakers interested. This year has seen the release of Yahoo! Maps, Google Maps, Google Earth and most recently Microsoft Virtual Earth. We’ve also seen the release of the excellent Mapping Hacks book, and increasing interest in this area from Web developers.

Although the experimental SWIG RDF vocabulary only deals with points described in WGS_84, there have been various discussions on possible extensions (eg. RDFGeom-2d from Chris Goad). These are intriguing, but we should be careful to avoid re-inventing wheels. Basically, I think we have all the ingredients for a hybrid approach: an RDFized GML subset designed for use by Web developers alongside RSS/Atom, FOAF and other public-facing XML formats. GML serves well as a data format in the GIS community, but some work is needed to find a subset that will find adoption in the wider Web.

The tiny W3C SWIG vocab, and related geo:lat/long tagging of “geo”-RSS feeds has shown that there is real interest in a lightweight XML-based mechanism for sharing map-related markup. GML shows us (via a 600 page specification, for GML 3.1) quite how rich and complex a problem space we’re facing, and KML demonstrates that a medium-sized “GML lite” subset can get traction with webmasters and developers, when backed by useful tools and services.

There are two pieces of work to do here (setting aside for now the topic of RDF islands within GML documents). Let’s first find a strawman profile of GML. From my limited knowledge and discussion with others, something “GML 2-ish” but profiled against GML 3.1, is the area to explore. Then we try getting those data structures into RDF, so it can mix freely with other information.

I understand from Ron Lake that profiling is something that is actively encouraged for GML, and there are even tools to support it that come with the spec: have a look at subsetutility.zip. These files (thanks Ron!) show a pretty easy path for experimentation with profiles. In addition to the schema subsetting utilities, the .zip also includes (just as an example to help me understand GML) an example application schema CommonObjects.xsd, showing how to define things like ‘Building’, ‘River’, and a sample instance .xml file that uses it.

To use the profiling tool, just put the unzipped files directly in the base/ directory of .xsd files that ships with GML 3.1, then run an XSLT processor to generate a GML subset.

xsltproc depends.xsl gml.xsd > _gml.dep

xsltproc GML3.1.1Subset.xsl _gml.dep > _gmlSubset.xsd

…and that’s your profile. The scripts take care of all the dependencies (ie. they’ll read the 29 XML Schemas, so you don’t have to :)

The bits of GML you want are specified as parameters in GML3.1.1Subset.xsl. The default in this .zip is: gml:Point, gml:LineString, gml:Polygon, gml:LinearRing, gml:Observation, gml:TimeInstant, gml:TimePeriod

I’m no GML expert, but if someone can help get some instance data matching such a profile, I’ll have a go at RDFizing it. Also, of course, it will be useful to debate how many facilities from full GML would find use in the Webmaster (RSS, KML etc) scene.

Disclaimer: for now this is purely an informal collaboration. If we make something interesting, it might be worth investigation of something more formal between W3C (home of RDF, and where I work) and OGC (home of GML). For now, let’s just try out some ideas…