A Meta-Discussion about Schema.org

Jan 29, 2014
[this is a re-post of a recent note to the public-vocabs@w3.org group, concerned with building up the Schema.org vocabulary.  We welcome your comments below.]

I would like to join or start a different kind of conversation about Schema.org.Schema.org

Although I follow with great interest and sincere appreciation most of the threads here concerning proposals for the extension and improvement of Schema.org and the details of its use and implementation, the kinds of questions that most intrigue me (spanning, as I do, technology and product/marketing concerns) are meta-questions related to the following sorts of issues:

  • Consumption.  We are familiar with the inducements to using markup: rich snippets, long tail relevance, (apocryphal stories of) better SERP positioning, Knowledge Graph / Satori, Google Now (Siri?), etc.  But, as [Ramanathan] Guha has observed in a presentation concerning Schema, applications drive adoption.  What applications are in the works, by the big guys and others, that might form a target at which the webmaster might aim?  If an external taxonomy is included in markup (e.g., GoodRelations, Dublin Core, SKOS), is it used?  If so, how?  Who, if anyone, is leveraging affiliated linked open data cloud sources?  Of course, it would be foolish to think that anyone is going to open the kimono concerning details for future products, but unless some sort of future state can be articulated, it will be hard to convince commercial interests to dedicate much money or resource to Schema.org markup.  It becomes an SEO after-thought, and is funded accordingly.  How do we get past chicken-and-egg here?
  • Use-Cases.  Closely related to the above is the issue of Schema use-cases.  I see here much discussion and advocacy concerning the relative merits of particular types and sub-types, their properties and location in the hierarchy.  But without target use-cases, how can the discussion be properly bounded or evaluative criteria identified?  Ought not a set of probable use-cases accompany each new proposal for inclusions to Schema?
  • SMEs.  Related to the above two issues is the question of role of subject matter expertise (or a proxy for it, like a representative best practices white paper) in discussions about new (or existing) types.  For example, in the recent exchanges concerning Reservations schemas, was anyone from the airline, rail, bus, lodging or car rental industries consulted?  Although the structure of these things is somewhat a matter of common understanding, it is not a priori knowledge and would surely benefit from some foundation in the industries that will presumably use the markup.
  • Tools.  I am aware of a variety of tools for WordPress and of the forthcoming Drupal 8, but what are site developers using to do markup today (particularly those running homegrown or obscure CMSs)?  I imagine that many of the large commercial deployments of Schema are assigning tags to objects drawn dynamically from databases based on templates (which raises a related, but off-point, question: how do the search engines “see” markup in pages that don’t exist until runtime?).  What will help move Schema from 15% to 99%?  How does markup — particularly at the granular, non-canonical level — scale?

Economics.  There is yet another discussion concerning the Schema ‘economy’.  I am thinking here not merely of ROI justifications based on SERPs, impressions, click-through rates and the like (though these are of course vital discussions), but of a perhaps more vague, glossy futuristic economy, in which the web is atomized into linked data chunks that may form the basis for as-yet un-dreamed-of businesses.  What is the context into which we are moving?

There are probably lots more themes for discussion that haven’t occurred to me.  I know this list is not the place for these kinds of discussions (indeed, maybe this note is impertinent), but I have to wonder: where, besides the occasional insightful article in Search Engine Journal, does this kind of discussion take place?

I know that there are groups on Google+ and LinkedIn as well as a Twitter feed, but I suppose I’m looking for something that might more directly cross-fertilize and influence the discussions on this list – something more focused on practice.  The Wiki seems to bit too archival for the kind of discussion I’m imagining.  Might there be support for a public-vocabs-issues@w3.org list, or something like it?   Thoughts?

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