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The Modeller

I’ve invented a new Batman villain. His name is “The Modeller” and his scheme is to model Gotham city entirely accurately in a way that is of no practical value to anybody. He has an OWL which sits on his shoulder which has the power to absorb huge amounts of time and energy.

The Modeler

The Modeller

In the first issue, “Batman vs the Modeller” the modeller gets away by confusing batman as to exactly which incarnation he currently is (Frank Miller, Golden age or Batman Begins) which forces Batman into an identity crisis where he registers different URIs and FOAF profiles for Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Over the 3 issues there’s a running subplot about the modelers master weapon, the FRBR, which everyone knows is very very powerful but when the citizens of Gotham talk about it none of them can quite agree on exactly what it does. All over the city citizens are becoming trapped in the modelers logical rabbit holes and rats nest traps, which The Batman does nothing but fiddle on the Bat-computer having now decided he must require a different URI for every possible version of himself that isn’t entirely identical. So far he’s at the level of one URI for every version in every media with a specific author, artist, director and/or actor. Any slight variation demands a new URI.

While unpopular with the fans, issue two, “Batman vs the Protégé, will later be hailed as a Kafkaesque masterpiece. Batman descends further into madness as he realises that every moment he’s the Batman of that second in time, and each requires a URI, and every time he considers a plan of action, the theoretical Batmen in his imagination also require unique distinct identifiers which he must assign before continuing. Gotham Police are unable to do anything as they have not yet finished their OWL ontology of Gotham crime, which fails to map onto the normal crime ontology. Commissioner Gorden can’t work out what rdf:type the Penguin’s last caper should be modelled as. It closes with Batman realising that time is continuous, not discrete and he needs an uncountable infinity of URIs…

The final issue, “B-nodes and Broomsticks”, is a much more light hearted affair as Batman, gains enlightenment and realises that nothing can ever be perfectly modelled and any model should serve him not he serve the model. In the final showdown Batman gives a speech about how if we try to hold knowledge too tight it slips through our grasp. He then quickly and satisfyingly captures the Modeller and delivers him the the cops who charge him with Aggravated Wasting of Police Time (they are still bitter about reading all the w3c OWL documents).

In a twist which splits the fanbase, some love it, other hate it; we never actually find out what the FRBR was capable of doing and if it really would have  lived up to the hype.

*** * ***

OK, maybe I have a chip on my shoulder about the fact that OWL appears to be the hardest part of the whole RDF thing and for the benefit of semantic web researchers only.

I’m interested to see if I get any outraged comments. I love modelling stuff and have written OWL ontologies for fun in my own time, my issue with the whole thing is that I’m not convinced it’s a useful exercise. Everyone hates 404s but making one way links was one of the things which made the web possible. I suspect that linked data will have some similar sacrifices to make on the alter of pragmatism. The picture isn’t supposed to look like anyone in particular, my 9am drawing ability is limited.

I currently think you have to accept that URIs may be sameAs or not, depending on the task you are attempting rather than an absolute truth. Semantic relativism, baby!

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18 Responses

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  1. Christopher Gutteridge says

    This also gave me the idea of a semantic way to protect Batman’s secret identity:

  2. Jakob says

    Great piece of comic art! For the next volume, when the Modeler has escaped from prison (by convincing the police that in fact *they* are locked out instead of him) I recommend Batman to aim on the OWL. Batman disenchantes the modeler by unhiding his animal which turns out to be a common naked logic mole rat! The Modeler becomes a nice guy after he visits other, less disruptive animals like the CSV dog, the XML kangaroo, the mindmap butterfly and many more.

  3. Ed Summers says

    Brilliant. I really like how you captured how the URI proliferation angle.

    Nothing can ever be perfectly modelled and any model should serve [batman] not he serve the model.

    Amen. I do think at some point Batman / Bruce Wayne should grow a beard and become a scruffy 🙂

  4. Ed Summers says

    s/how the/the/

  5. Martin Malmsten says

    Wonderful! I can absolutely relate to the love of modelling on one hand, and being sceptical about usefulness on the other.

    They should have called it the “Web Semantic” instead, it is too easy to get stuck on the “semantic” and never get to the “web” part (which ofcourse has lots of pitfalls too, as you point out).

  6. Dorothea Salo says

    This is absolutely FTW!

  7. Jeff Young says

    UML is much easier to model in than OWL and it’s easy to switch back and forth if you avoid features of both that fall outside the 80/20 rule:

  8. Thom Hickey says


    [EDIT: I asked Thom what the hell this was and got the following reply:]

    That is VIAF’s (Virtual International Authority File) ID for batman. VIAF doesn’t really try to cover imaginary characters, but the DNB includes them in their personal name authorities, so VIAF has it.

    VIAF is a merge of about 20 national-level library authority files.

  9. Jakob says

    I doubt that OWL is a modelling language at all. I prefer ORM or good old bubbles-connected-with-lines-diagrams that may evolve to entity-relationship diagrams.

  10. Jenn Riley says


  11. Garry Jolley-Rogers says

    wonderfully captures everything I wanted to say on this. wonderful tho’ the semantic web may one day be it does bring out the worst tendencies for omphaloskepsis

  12. antony little says

    great picture!

  13. Alexander Gödde says

    Nice one! A welcome bit of relief after wading through dozens of serious, technical posts in my Linked Data blogfeed backlogs.
    And, since this is timeless, I featured it in the first “Linked Data Posts of the Month” post on our new linked data blog.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. ISKO-UK Conference on Linked Data « Repositories Support Project linked to this post on September 15, 2010

    […] in the conference was a certain shying away from the development of ontologies and OWL. This recent blog post from Chris Gutteridge was much discussed and there seemed to be implicit agreement with his […]

  2. "The modeller" a true story … — linked to this post on September 16, 2010

    […] modeller" a true story about how you can end up hating ontologies (via […]

  3. THATCamp New England » Blog Archive linked to this post on November 10, 2010

    […] as you think it needs to, but it’s easy to get stuck in a black hole of doing too much, as humorous blogpost from the University of Southampton describes. Just the same, however, incautious modeling, or even undermodeling, can lead to […]

  4. Open Knowledge Foundation Blog » Blog Archive » Playing around with Open Linked Data: linked to this post on February 7, 2011

    […] before employing it on anything major. I also like over-engineering for its own sake. (Beware the Modeller!) That’s how I ended up building […]

  5. Identifiers | Gavia Libraria linked to this post on August 18, 2012

    […] ISNI builds equivalence and referral mechanisms itself, or perhaps it leaves such dilemmas to the evil Modeller and his henchlings, but the question of what merits an ISNI can’t be […]

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