Copyright © 2000-2010 Dan Brickley and Libby Miller
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License. This copyright applies to the FOAF Vocabulary Specification and accompanying documentation in RDF. Regarding underlying technology, FOAF uses W3C's RDF technology, an open Web standard that can be freely used by anyone.
This specification describes the FOAF language, defined as a dictionary of named properties and classes using W3C's RDF technology.
FOAF is a project devoted to linking people and information using the Web. Regardless of whether information is in people's heads, in physical or digital documents, or in the form of factual data, it can be linked. FOAF integrates three kinds of network: social networks of human collaboration, friendship and association; representational networks that describe a simplified view of a cartoon universe in factual terms, and information networks that use Web-based linking to share independently published descriptions of this inter-connected world. FOAF does not compete with socially-oriented Web sites; rather it provides an approach in which different sites can tell different parts of the larger story, and by which users can retain some control over their information in a non-proprietary format.
FOAF has been evolving gradually since its creation in mid-2000. There is now a stable core of classes and properties that will not be changed, beyond modest adjustments to their documentation to track implementation feedback and emerging best practices. New terms may be added at any time (as with a natural-language dictionary), and consequently this specification is an evolving work. The FOAF RDF namespace URI, by contrast, is fixed and its identifier is not expected to change. Furthermore, efforts are underway to ensure the long-term preservation of the FOAF namespace, its xmlns.com domain name and associated documentation.
The FOAF specification is produced as part of the FOAF project, to provide authoritative documentation of the contents, status and purpose of the RDF/XML vocabulary and document formats known informally as 'FOAF'.
This document is created by combining the RDFS/OWL machine-readable FOAF ontology with a set of per-term documents. Future versions may incorporate multilingual translations of the term definitions. An RDF/XML encoding of the specification is available by direct link or by HTTP content negotiation from the namespace URI. The HTML specification no longer embeds the RDF/XML markup; however an experimental subset of the RDF is included in this document using RDFa notation.
The authors welcome comments on this document, preferably via the public FOAF developers list firstname.lastname@example.org; public archives are available. A historical backlog of known technical issues is acknowledged, and available for discussion in the FOAF wiki. Proposals for resolving these issues are welcomed, either on foaf-dev or via the wiki. Further work is also needed on the explanatory text in this specification and on the FOAF website; progress towards this will be measured in the version number of future revisions to the FOAF specification.
This revision introduces the new foaf:focus term, fixes a few long-standing editorial bugs, and makes some largely predictable changes to the 'status' of various terms. Some older text has been archived to the Wiki. New overview text has been added, which attempts to present more clearly the general approach, design and philosophy of the project. The 'at a glance' has been simplified, and now shows 'core' and 'social Web' groupings from FOAF's most widely used terms. Consumers of the machine-readable version should note that some disjointness and rdfs:domain claims have been relaxed, as detailed below; also that the values of the foaf:logo property are now considered uniquely identifying.
See the changes section for more detailed change-log information.
FOAF describes the world using simple ideas inspired by the Web. In FOAF descriptions, there are only various kinds of things and links, which we call properties. The types of the things we talk about in FOAF are called classes. FOAF is therefore defined as a dictionary of terms, each of which is either a class or a property. Other projects alongside FOAF provide other sets of classes and properties, many of which are linked with those defined in FOAF.
FOAF descriptions are themselves published as linked documents in the Web (eg. using RDF/XML or RDFa syntax). The result of the FOAF project is a network of documents describing a network of people (and other stuff). Each FOAF document is itself an encoding of a descriptive network structure. Although these documents do not always agree or tell the truth, they have the useful characteristic that they can be easily merged, allowing partial and decentralised descriptions to be combined in interesting ways.
FOAF collects a variety of terms; some describe people, some groups, some documents. Different kinds of application can use or ignore different parts of FOAF. The overview here shows one way of viewing FOAF terms: we ignore archaic and historical parts, and divide the rest into terms that only make sense on the Web, and those that have universal applicability when linking people and information.
Main FOAF terms, grouped in broad categories.
This is a complete alphabetical A-Z index of all FOAF terms, by class (categories or types) and by property. Note that it includes 'archaic' terms that are largely of historical interest.%s
Here is a very basic document describing a person:
<foaf:Person rdf:about="#danbri" xmlns:foaf="http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/"> <foaf:name>Dan Brickley</foaf:name> <foaf:homepage rdf:resource="http://danbri.org/" /> <foaf:openid rdf:resource="http://danbri.org/" /> <foaf:img rdf:resource="/images/me.jpg" /> </foaf:Person>
This brief example introduces the basics of FOAF. It basically says, "there is a foaf:Person with a foaf:name property of 'Dan Brickley'; this person stands in foaf:homepage and foaf:openid relationship to a thing called http://danbri.org/ and a foaf:img relationship to a thing referenced by a relative URI of /images/me.jpg
To a computer, the Web is a flat, boring world, devoid of meaning. This is a pity, as in fact documents on the Web describe real objects and imaginary concepts, and give particular relationships between them. For example, a document might describe a person. The title document to a house describes a house and also the ownership relation with a person. Adding semantics to the Web involves two things: allowing documents which have information in machine-readable forms, and allowing links to be created with relationship values. Only when we have this extra level of semantics will we be able to use computer power to help us exploit the information to a greater extent than our own reading. - Tim Berners-Lee "W3 future directions" keynote, 1st World Wide Web Conference Geneva, May 1994
I express my network in a FOAF file, and that is a start of the revolution. - TimBL 2007, Giant Global Graph (foaf)
FOAF is a project devoted to linking people and information using the Web. Regardless of whether information is in people's heads, in physical or digital documents, or in the form of factual data, it can be linked. FOAF integrates three kinds of network: social networks of human collaboration, friendship and association; representational networks that describe a simplified view of a cartoon universe in factual terms, and information networks that use Web-based linking to share independently published descriptions of this inter-connected world. FOAF does not compete with socially-oriented Web sites; rather it provides an approach in which different sites can tell different parts of the larger story, and through which users can retain some control over their information in a non-proprietary format.
FOAF, like the Web itself, is a linked information system. It is built using decentralised Semantic Web technology, and has been designed to allow for integration of data across a variety of applications, Web sites and services, and software systems. To achieve this, FOAF takes a liberal approach to data exchange. It does not require you to say anything at all about yourself or others, nor does it place any limits on the things you can say or the variety of Semantic Web vocabularies you may use in doing so. This current specification provides a basic "dictionary" of terms for talking about people and the things they make and do.
FOAF was designed to be used alongside other such dictionaries ("schemas" or "ontologies"), and to be usable with the wide variety of generic tools and services that have been created for the Semantic Web. For example, the W3C work on SPARQL provides us with a rich query language for consulting databases of FOAF data, while the SKOS initiative explores in more detail than FOAF the problem of describing topics, categories, "folksonomies" and subject hierarchies. Meanwhile, other W3C groups are working on improved mechanisms for encoding all kinds of RDF data (including but not limited to FOAF) within Web pages: see the work of the GRDDL and RDFa efforts for more detail. The Semantic Web provides us with an architecture for collaboration, allowing complex technical challenges to be shared by a loosely-coordinated community of developers.
The FOAF project is based around the use of machine readable Web homepages for people, groups, companies and other kinds of thing. To achieve this we use the "FOAF vocabulary" to provide a collection of basic terms that can be used in these Web pages. At the heart of the FOAF project is a set of definitions designed to serve as a dictionary of terms that can be used to express claims about the world. The initial focus of FOAF has been on the description of people, since people are the things that link together most of the other kinds of things we describe in the Web: they make documents, attend meetings, are depicted in photos, and so on.
The FOAF Vocabulary definitions presented here are written using a computer language (RDF/OWL) that makes it easy for software to process some basic facts about the terms in the FOAF vocabulary, and consequently about the things described in FOAF documents. A FOAF document, unlike a traditional Web page, can be combined with other FOAF documents to create a unified database of information. FOAF is a Linked Data system, in that it based around the idea of linking together a Web of decentralised descriptions.
The basic idea is pretty simple. If people publish information in the FOAF document format, machines will be able to make use of that information. If those files contain "see also" references to other such documents in the Web, we will have a machine-friendly version of today's hypertext Web. Computer programs will be able to scutter around a Web of documents designed for machines rather than humans, storing the information they find, keeping a list of "see also" pointers to other documents, checking digital signatures (for the security minded) and building Web pages and question-answering services based on the harvested documents.
So, what is the 'FOAF document format'? FOAF files are just
text documents (well, Unicode documents). They adopt the conventions
of the Resource Description Framework (RDF), and may be written in XML
syntax or any other of the syntaxes of RDF such as RDFa or N3.
In addition, the FOAF vocabulary defines some
useful constructs that can appear in FOAF files, alongside other
RDF vocabularies defined elsewhere. For example, FOAF defines
categories ('classes') such as
some handy properties of those things, such as
foaf:mbox (ie. an internet
foaf:homepage etc., as well as some useful
kinds of relationship that hold between members of these
categories. For example, one interesting relationship type is
foaf:depiction. This relates something (eg. a
foaf:Person) to a
foaf:Image. The FOAF
demos that feature photos and listings of 'who is in which
picture' are based on software tools that parse RDF documents and
make use of these properties.
The specific contents of the FOAF vocabulary are detailed in this FOAF namespace document. In addition to the FOAF vocabulary, one of the most interesting features of a FOAF file is that it can contain "see Also" pointers to other FOAF files. This provides a basis for automatic harvesting tools to traverse a Web of interlinked files, and learn about new people, documents, services, data...
The remainder of this specification describes how to publish and interpret descriptions such as these on the Web, using RDF/XML for syntax (file format) and terms from FOAF. It introduces a number of categories (RDF classes such as 'Person') and properties (relationship and attribute types such as 'mbox' or 'workplaceHomepage'). Each term definition is provided in both human and machine-readable form, hyperlinked for quick reference.
For an early general introduction to FOAF, see Edd Dumbill's article, XML Watch: Finding friends with XML and RDF (June 2002, IBM developerWorks). Information about the use of FOAF with image metadata is also available.
FOAF is a collaborative effort amongst developers on the FOAF (email@example.com) mailing list. The name 'FOAF' is derived from traditional internet usage, an acronym for 'Friend of a Friend'.
The name was chosen to reflect our concern with social networks and the Web, urban myths, trust and connections. Other uses of the name continue, notably in the documentation and investigation of Urban Legends (eg. see the alt.folklore.urban archive or snopes.com), and other FOAF stories. Our use of the name 'FOAF' for a Web vocabulary and document format is intended to complement, rather than replace, these prior uses. FOAF documents describe the characteristics and relationships amongst friends of friends, and their friends, and the stories they tell.
It is important to understand that the FOAF vocabulary as specified in this document is not a standard in the sense of ISO Standardisation, or that associated with W3C Process.
FOAF depends heavily on W3C's standards work, specifically on XML, XML Namespaces, RDF, and OWL. All FOAF documents must be well-formed RDF documents. The FOAF vocabulary, by contrast, is managed more in the style of an Open Source or Free Software project than as an industry standardarisation effort (eg. see Jabber JEPs).
This specification contributes a vocabulary, "FOAF", to the Semantic Web, specifying it using W3C's Resource Description Framework (RDF). As such, FOAF adopts by reference both syntaxes (using XML, N3, or RDFa) a data model (RDF graphs) and a mathematically grounded definition for the rules that underpin the FOAF design.
This specification serves as the FOAF "namespace document". As such it describes the FOAF vocabulary the terms (RDF classes and properties) that constitute it, so that Semantic Web applications can use those terms in a variety of RDF-compatible document formats and applications.
This document presents FOAF as a Semantic Web vocabulary or Ontology. The FOAF vocabulary is pretty simple, pragmatic and designed to allow simultaneous deployment and extension. FOAF is intended for widescale use, but its authors make no commitments regarding its suitability for any particular purpose.
The FOAF vocabulary is identified by the namespace URI
http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/'. Revisions and
extensions of FOAF are conducted through edits to this document,
which by convention is accessible in the Web via the namespace URI.
For practical and deployment reasons, note that we do not
update the namespace URI as the vocabulary matures.
Much of FOAF now is considered stable. Each release of this specification document has an incrementally increased version number, even while the technical namespace ID remains fixed and includes the original value of "0.1". It long ago became impractical to update the namespace URI without causing huge disruption to both producers and consumers of FOAF data. We are left with the digits "0.1" in our URI. This stands as a warning to all those who might embed metadata in their vocabulary identifiers.
The evolution of FOAF is best considered in terms of the stability of individual vocabulary terms, rather than the specification as a whole. As terms stabilise in usage and documentation, they progress through the categories 'unstable', 'testing' and 'stable'. Older terms are marked 'archaic' which allows the possibility of older forms to become modern again.
The properties and types defined here provide some basic useful concepts for use in FOAF descriptions. Other vocabulary (eg. the Dublin Core metadata elements for simple bibliographic description), RSS 1.0 etc can also be mixed in with FOAF terms, as can local extensions. FOAF is designed to be extended. The FoafVocab page in the FOAF wiki lists a number of extension vocabularies that are particularly applicable to use with FOAF.
If you publish a FOAF self-description (eg. using foaf-a-matic)
you can make it easier for tools to find your FOAF by putting
markup in the
head of your HTML homepage. It doesn't
really matter what filename you choose for your FOAF document,
foaf.rdf is a common choice. The linking
markup is as follows:
<link rel="meta" type="application/rdf+xml" title="FOAF" href="http://example.com/~you/foaf.rdf"/>
...although of course change the URL to point to your own FOAF document. See also: more on FOAF autodiscovery and services that make use of it.
For information about why FOAF uses RDF, see the FOAFandRDF wiki entry.
FOAF introduces the following classes and properties. A machine-friendly version is also available in RDF/XML.%s %s
The description of the terms in the FOAF 'dictionary' often make reference to classes and properties elsewhere. This section of the FOAF specification provides a placeholder reference for any FOAF mention of externally defined terms. For example, sometimes we might say that FOAF property has a domain or range of an externally defined class, or that a FOAF class is a sub-class of an external class, or 'disjoint with' such a class (ie. has no common members). Such claims help fix the intended meaning of FOAF terms in relationship to other 'peer' vocabularies.
Each term in FOAF is annotated with properties from the SemWeb Vocab Status Ontology
This was created as an experiment in documenting FOAF's term-centric versioning model, in which a common fixed namespace URI is used, while term definitions slowly and independently evolve through different stability levels. This contrasts with other approaches to versioning which attach versioning information to larger sets of terms.
Note that this mechanism is itself somewhat experimental and evolvin. The definitions of 'stable', 'unstable', 'archaic' and 'testing' cannot be defined as global absolutes, but only in relationship to the practices, expectations and social structures around some vocabulary. For their use in FOAF, future versions of this specification could usefully offer more detail about what to expect from a term labelled 'stable'.
Members of the FOAF and W3C Semantic Web Interest Group communities collaborated in 2003 to create a very simple vocabulary that described points in geographic space. This is the W3CBasic Geo Vocabulary. It assumes use of the WGS84 reference system and defines properties geo:lat, geo:long and geo:alt in terms of a class geo:SpatialThing.
The foaf:based_near property relates a spatial thing (typically a foaf:Agent of some kind) to another spatial thing, which can be described using geo:lat, geo:long etc.
The FOAF dictionary of terms is defined using a family of W3C standards: RDF, RDF Schema and OWL. These share a data model and general approach, and provide for increasing levels of expressivity. Here we introduce the core OWL and RDF/S terms used directly in the machine-readable description of FOAF. See W3C's site for the latest and most authoritative OWL and RDF specifications.
FOAF is based on the exchange of free-form descriptions that are structured in terms of things having properties, where the value of each property is expressed as either textually (eg. a name or number), or by reference to another thing. FOAF (as an application of RDF) uses URI identifiers wherever possible to talk about things of interest, whether they are Web pages, classes of thing, properties of things, or even people. See the W3C Web Architecture specification for more background on URIs.
From core RDF, FOAF takes the notion that we are talking about things, and they fall into categories; we call these 'classes'. The core machinery we use from the RDF Schema and OWL technologies simply give us some built-in terminology for talking about things, classes and properties. Here we introduce some of these and discuss briefly how they relate to FOAF's approach to describing things.
The Dublin Core specification provides term definitions that focus on issues of resource discovery, document description and related concepts useful for cultural heritage and digital library applications. FOAF can be used alongside any variants of Dublin Core, but works most effectively with the most modern Dublin Core terms namespace. Note that here we use the prefix 'dct:' to stand for the DC Terms namespace; however it is not unusual to see 'dc' also used.
Earlier versions of this specification used an experimental companion namespace produced from the lexical database Wordnet (v1.6). This is currently offline, and corresponding sub-class relationships have been ommited from the FOAF documentation. More recent RDF representations of Wordnet now exist, however they don't map Wordnet synsets to classes, so can't be directly used here. Future versions of this specification might restore links to some version of Wordnet in RDF.
Many terms in the SIOC vocabulary are defined with reference to FOAF. See the SIOC project for details. Future versions of this specification may provide more information here.
There are far too many people who have contributed to the FOAF project to name everyone in this early-release of the new improved spec. FOAF wouldn't be such a fun project or be as widely known as it is today without the efforts, enthusiasm and intelligence of the folks who have contributed via the rdfweb-dev list, #foaf IRC channel, and FoafProject wiki site.
That said, a few milestones in FOAF's history should be mentioned. We owe particular thanks to Edd Dumbill for his IBM developerWorks articles (which attracted the affections of the Weblogging crowd) and for his Foafbot application whose evolution those articles have tracked. Also Morten Frederiksen's FoafExplorer, Daniel Krech's Web View aggregator, Jim Ley and Liz Turner's work on FOAFNaut, which alongside FOAFbot, ˆhave been instrumental in showing how FOAF data can be collected and used. Meanwhile Leigh Dodd's foaf-a-matic has been the data creation tool that has been most people's gateway to FOAFdom. FOAF also owes a lot to the folks at Ecademy, TypePad and elsewhere for showing how end users can share FOAF self-descriptions on the Web without ever seeing a line of XML syntax. Jo Walsh has enthused many about hooking FOAF up to Geo and mapping data, as has Matt Biddulph by explaining the workings of his FOAF harvesting and image metadata tools. FOAF has also benefited greatly from documentation contributed in non-English languages, many thanks to all contributors of translations (foaf-a-matic and other docs). FOAF is now arguably better documented in Japanese and Spanish than in English, thanks to Masahide Kanzaki and Leandro Mariano Lopez (inkel) respectively. Thanks also to Chris Schmidt for fixing up the spec generation tool (now a Python/Redland script), as well as for contributing numerous cool hacks to the FOAF community. To Richard Cyganiak and others in IRC for (amongst much else) help debugging Apache configurations. To Ian Davis for his wonderful FOAF Logo. And last but not least, Marc Canter is in a class of his own. Thanks all, and to those who aren't listed here yet, but who made a difference...
This brief survey only scratches the surface of a growing body of work. Sincere thanks to all who have contributed tools, documentation, brain cells and enthusiasm to this project. We should also mention that FOAF would not be possible without the collaborative and opensource efforts of the RDF developer community, both in terms of idea sharing (#swig etc) and freely available tools (Jena, Redland, RDFlib, Cwm, Sesame, 3store etc).
Thanks also to TimBL, who dreamed most of this up years ago, for seeing what "hypertext flexibility" could bring...
foaf:focusproperty relates a conceptualisation of something to the thing itself." We stay quiet for now on whether it is functional, inverse functional, ...
foaf:familyNamehave been changed from
foaf:family_nameto make FOAF in line with usage of these terms in the Portable Contacts format. The previous versions remain in the document, marked as 'archaic'.
foaf:holdsAccounthas been marked as 'archaic' in favour of
More details (including postponed suggestions) are in the Wiki.