Is a Solid pod a set of documents—or is it a knowledge graph?

My latest blog post Let’s talk about pods shows that the way we think about a pod influences what we can do with it.

Today, we’re thinking about pods as sets of documents; but there are some crucial cases of reuse that this model can’t tackle. In this blog post, I invite you to think of a pod as a hybrid knowledge graph, and how that changes things.

You might want to read this if you are curious about interop, the Solid Application Interoperability spec, Shape Trees, Type Indexes, or if you wonder in general where to write things to a pod.

Curious to hear your feedback!

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Thank you for this blog post.

As you describe I’m also facing a limitation with documents when developing interoperable SOLID apps.

From a “database” point of view, documents seems to not be flexible enough: sooner or later we have an issue on how we organize an atomic piece of data that fits to all the use cases.

But if we thing in term of documents, we can write document for particular purposes/use cases. This would lead us to duplicate “atomic” data at some point.

To avoid data duplication, we could imagine a POD server that would implement your hybrid graph as the data storage while keeping serving SOLID compliant documents. The two designs are not necessary opposed.

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Thanks for posting this Ruben, very interesting :).

the first app to sculpt documents and containers in your pod determines where other apps need to look for data.

I agree that this is what’s happening in practice today, but I don’t think that’s the idea of Solid. Ideally, apps should be using the Type Index (or Solid Application Interoperability, etc.). But they don’t, so I think the problem is that most apps are not following best practices, not that this is how Solid is supposed to work.

I see two ways to solve that. The first one is to actually enforce them, but I worry that it would increase the barrier of entry for new developers. The second one is to make it so trivially easy to use that everyone does it; either because it’s a well-documented best practice or because most libraries in the ecosystem do it out of the box.

And maybe the second one would be the best approach. I like to think of this like how lenient HTML is with mistakes. You can write HTML that is not 100% valid, but the browser will still render it, instead of throwing an error. In that regard, I think it would be fine if 90% of Solid Apps used the Type Index but not all of them. The problem is that at the moment, almost none are using it.

This seriously hinders interoperability and serendipitous reuse, which I consider absolutely vital to a thriving personal data ecosystem.

I agree with this 100% :D. I wrote a post a while ago titled Interoperable Serendipity, and for me this is THE point of Solid.

Implementing graph-centric pods and views

My opinion of graph-centric pods is that they sound great in theory, but I worry that this will never happen in practice :/. I’ve been developing Solid Apps for 4 years now, and I’m still missing things as simple as paginating data.

Sure, I’m saying that from an impatient app developer’s point of view; I understand that things take time. But honestly, I’d much rather have a document-centric Solid POD that works in practice, than being caught up in theoretical discussions that never become a reality.

As an app developer, I also had this question of where I should place the data. But ever since I learned about the Type Index, I don’t have it any more. And even though it’s not perfect, it gets the job done for many use cases. Still, nobody is using it because it’s still a draft and it seems we’re waiting for the perfect solution before settling on anything.

As you mention in the article, a graph-centric POD is backwards compatible with a document-centric POD. So I think at this point it’s more useful to develop the existing document-centric architecture further, and transition it towards a graph-centric architecture eventually.

In any case, I’m just a mere app developer and I haven’t thought deeply about these topics, so I may be missing something for sure :sweat_smile:. But my impression is that such a paradigm shift would slow down the progress of Solid even more than it already is.

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It seems a lot is already being said on this topic.

Here are a few cents from my perspective (as a datascientist, not someone who understands all the technical detail of the current specs, code and agreements).

The use and re-use of data (including writing, editing, adding, deleting), should be possible by different apps, different people (according to ACL) and on the most granular level possible.

While I see shapes and patterns and fragments as interesting tools, There will be data in your pod that will be “all over the place”.

To some I wish to share my date of birth, to others, I wish to share only the day and month.
To some, I wish to share some info from one document, and some info of another document, but not all.
I might want to query ‘relevant’ information of people “relating cars”, regardless of the ontology or SHex or whatever format they have written it.

Interoperability needs the open world assumption to hold.
Representations of reality need to be open to change (and preferably have a probabilistic reference in terms of truth value, but that can be done in rdf), as not only reality changes, the representation can and will change over time.

This in mind, I think that all triples should be stored in a triple store (or quad store). Including the many possible defined views and relations.

A knowledge graph is the strongest way to do this, and offers a lot of flexibility.

Additionally, I think that (preferably in the near future), we need to introduce vector embedding of nodes & ontologies.
When using NLP techniques, you can map “foaf:person” on “vcard:person” or “schema:person” to one another, as the difference between them might not interest me, and the meaning is too similar to me to make that distinction, or that those “near alternatives” correlate sufficiently for my data usage purpose.
(Note that this takes Wittgenstein’s Family relationship into account).

I don’t see how all of this will ever be possible as long as you keep the graph cut up into documents with an arbitrary (and thus wildly differing) structure.

Ideally, I give permission to a query (of course, in a human readable way): for example: I want to share or query data that is relevant for buying new shoes :
Asking for my favourite colour is fine, as is my buying history of shoes and even trousers, asking for my educational background is not, asking for the amount of steps I do in a day might be interesting (how do I use or wear my footwear).

Now, a lot of these concerns can be pushed off for a little while, until adoption increases and more apps and use cases are developed for a broadening community… But it will become a huge problem when Solid becomes ubiquitous, and as I assume the growth is exponential, we shouldn’t wait too long.
Starting to clear the grounds to prepare for this and make a first working version would be a boon.

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I’ve translated this to Chinese https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/596655931

I’ve been a while not participating SoLiD related development, this is a good reentry point for me to access new concepts like TypeIndex and ShapeTree …

But it seems will require a few years before we can use the new graph based solution? If there are view definition language and a view processor to develop in the SoLiD servers.

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I love the ideas in the article! Elegant way to resolve Solid’s ongoing issues.

It’s the direction i’ve been hoping for, but have been too shy to ask.
(((:arrow_up: link to unfinished article, maybe don’t go beyond intro :sweat_smile:)))

When i read these ideas clearly explained by one of the Solid’s leading thinkers-influencers @RubenVerborgh , it gives me a boost of optimism for Solid. I hope we pick this direction asap. :slight_smile: :crossed_fingers:


rant follows

As Solid app developer, I’ve failed to deal — in my thoughts — with the issues described in the article (rigid discovery, permissions). It caused me anxiety about investing energy into Solid. I thought it was doomed to fail due to its limits. Furthermore, thoughts about including Shape Trees in the specification (thus enforcing rigid document structure) gave me further reasons to despair. (Sorry interoperability panel…)

This approach solves a major part of my issues!

As app developer, i don’t care for documents at all. I need to CRUD data. I want to provide an expected shape to the data storage, and receive subgraph that matches the shape and user’s permissions. Some form of query engine seems necessary (LDF, SPARQL)
Recently i’ve enjoyed ideas behind shape repo and LDO by @jaxoncreed. Graphs and shapes - yay!

I agree with @NoelDeMartin - to focus on making things work.
Yet i hope that we make this work: Graph-centered pods with triple-and-blob-level permissions, and with query endpoint(s). (Great to read that it’s not in conflict with document approach. Thanks article!)
I also wish Solid community would take more practical, demo-first approach to writing specs. (developers of solid unite! :muscle:t4: :muscle:t3: :muscle:t5: :muscle:t2: :muscle:t6: :smile:)
Until then, i’m also going for type indexes, and painful dealing with documents and granular permissions.

I find (knowledge-)graphs, and basic RDF, and data shapes super intuitive. I think everybody can. (think colorful dots and arrows). The difficulties start when we try to express them in linear text documents. Not sure why documents should be more intuitive for devs. We work with databases, structures and queries all the time.
(ok, let’s not start about how expressive & universal, or not, RDF is. maybe it’s good enough, idk, let’s find out in practice…)

I’ll end the rant here… :sweat_smile:

rant fades


Thanks for reading! :blush: