A semantic triple, or RDF triple or simply triple, is the atomic data entity in the Resource Description Framework (RDF) data model. As its name indicates, a triple is a set of three entities that codifies a statement about semantic data in the form of subject–predicate–object expressions (e.g., "Bob is 35", or "Bob knows John").
Subject, predicate and object
This format enables knowledge to be represented in a machine-readable way. Particularly, every part of an RDF triple is individually addressable via unique URIs — for example, the statement "Bob knows John" might be represented in RDF as:
http://example.name#BobSmith12 http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/knows http://example.name#JohnDoe34.
The components of a triple, such as the statement "The sky has the color blue", consist of a subject ("the sky"), a predicate ("has the color"), and an object ("blue"). This is similar to the classical notation of an entity–attribute–value model within object-oriented design, where this example would be expressed as an entity (sky), an attribute (color) and a value (blue).
From this basic structure, triples can be composed into more complex models, by using triples as objects or subjects of other triples — for example,
Mike → said → (triples → can be → objects).
Given their particular, consistent structure, a collection of triples is often stored in purpose-built databases called Triplestores.
Difference to relational databases
A relational database is the classical form for information storage. It's working with different tables which consist of rows. The well known SQL-language is able to retrieve information from a database. In contrast, the RDF triple storage is working with logical predicates. No tables nor rows are needed but the information is stored in a text file. A RDF-triple storage can be converted into a SQL database and the other way around. If the knowledge is highly unstructured and dedicated tables aren't flexible enough, semantic triples are used over classical SQL storage.
In contrast to a traditional SQL database, the RDF triple storage isn't created with table editors but the preferred tool is a knowledge editor, for example Protege. Protégé looks similar to an object-oriented modeling application used for software engineering, but it's focused on natural language information. The RDF triples are aggregated into a knowledge base which allows external parser to run requests. Possible applications are located within video games for the creation of non player characters.
An easy to solve concern about triple storage is the missing Database scalability towards larger datasets. The problem has become visible if not only a few information but millions of triples are stored and retrieved in a database. The seek time is larger than for classical SQL based databases.
A bit harder to fix is the missing ability to predict future situation with a given knowledge model. Even if all the information are available as logical predicates, the model fails in answering what-if questions. For example, suppose in the RDF-format the world of a robot is described very well. The robot knows what the location of the table is, is aware of the distance to the table in centimeter and knows also that a table is a furniture. Before the robot can plan the next action he needs temporal reasoning capabilities. That means, the knowledge model should answer hypothetical questions in advance before an action was taken.
- Named graphs and quads, an extension to semantic triples to also include a context node as a fourth element.
- http://www.w3.org/TR/PR-rdf-syntax/ "Resource Description Framework (RDF) Model and Syntax Specification"
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