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Arguing The Semantic Web: Dead Or Just Not Alive?

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The language used to describe the Semantic Web is complicated enough – at a glance, it looks a bit quantum theory-ish, just enough to make your eyes roll back into your head to look for ways to kill themselves – but Tim Berners-Lee, who’s responsible for all those Ws littering your URLs, inspired enough faith that whatever the Semantic Web was, it could be accomplished.

Semantic Web developer Mor Naaman, however, amidst a now somewhat miffed semantic Web developer crowd, pulled rank and declared the semantic Web dead. A researcher at Yahoo Research Berkeley, Naaman presented his case at the International World Wide Web Conference in Alberta, Canada.

Naaman relegated Berners-Lee’s vision of a cooperative Web where people and machines get along in digitized, organized artificial intelligence harmony via tags (told ya, this is some heady, quantum stuff) to a pipe dream. Naaman reminds Berners-Lee that people, in general, especially collectively, just ain’t that bright.

The Semantic Web, you see, relies in large part on people tagging their online media in a rather standardized, academic, high-minded, meaningful, and structured way. And Naaman thinks that’s too much to ask:

There is no way that we can engage the masses in annotating media with “semantic” labels. At best, we can get the people to annotate content (such as Flickr images or YouTube videos) with short text descriptions or tags.  

Hmmm, yes, very Aristotelian. I like it. Sounds like Naaman’s actually observed the primates in question. (Down the block from me, one of these primates spray-painted his name on the road with stencil. It’s not a complicated name, a four-letter smacker, spelled J-A-K-C, apparently.)

Naaman modified his original use of the word "dead," as it was intended more as a conversation-starter, opting for something closer to unachievable.

Certainly, Berners-Lee has wowed the world in the past. It wouldn’t be surprising if he heard rhetoric like this before his historic launch of an HTML page. So what does ol’ TBL have to say about it? Let’s check his blog.

He says "blogging is great" … um, at least he thought so last November.  

 

Arguing The Semantic Web: Dead Or Just Not Alive?
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  • cindy

    good article

  • eric

    Berners-Lee knows nothing about human relationships and social moral responsibility, so how could he reliably believe that this is possible–ask anyone who knows him personally through the consortium.

  • eric neumann

    For those interested in seeing real-world Semantic Web biomedical research applications of R&D by international communities (i.e., social + science), let me direct you to an on-line demo:
    http://esw.w3.org/topic/HCLS/Banff2007Demo

    The size of the linked graph continues to grow!

    cheers,
    Eric

  • Tim Berners-Lee

    You say, “The Semantic Web, you see, relies in large part on people tagging their online media ”

    Not true.

    The semantic web is about data integration.
    Most of the data is in existing databaes.
    Much of it is currently exported in HTML and can be easily exported also in RDF using a tool like D2R Server.
    Data comes from many sources. Calendars. Scientific measurements. Applications such as calendars, financial programs, and so on.

    Yes, it is possible to write data into online media, but that (a) is very effort-intensive and (b) only covers a fraction of all the things data is about. I’m not holding my breath for that.

    At the same conference, in the Linked Data session, you would have seen masses of interconnected data about people, places, proteins, genes, and so on. And there was a feeling of momentum and excitement.

    The ‘people tagging existing media’ thing seems to be a common misunderstanding about the Semantic Web. The idea that quantum theory is simpler than triples, though, I have only seen here. :)

    • Jason Lee Miller

      Wow. Tim Berners-Lee responded to my article. I’m half-inclined to call you an imposter. But since you seem to understand this semantic web thing far better than I, we’ll just have to say it’s true.

      As you illustrated, the semantic web idea is complicated…and yes, I get string theory more. :)

      I’ll leave the debate to you and Mr. Naaman.

      Cheers.

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