Tuesday, April 22, 2008

7 Opportunities for the Semantic Web

Dan Zambonini’s 7 f(laws) of the Semantic Web is a terrific read, and perhaps offers a refreshing perspective of the challenges of realizing the SemWeb. Too often we hear a dichotomy of arguments, but Zambonini’s calmly lays out what he believes are hurdles for the SemWeb. Instead of regurgitating his points, I’m going to complement them with my own comments:

(1) Not all SemWeb data are created equal - There’s a lot of RDF files on the web, in various formats. But that doesn’t equate to the SemWeb. But this is a bit of a strawman. In fact, it emphasizes the point that the components of the SemWeb are here. The challenge is the finding the mechanism or application that can glue everything together.

(2) A Technology is only as good as developers think it is - Search analysis reveals that people are actually more interested in AJAX than RDF Schema, despite the fact that RDF has a longer history. Zambonini believes that this is because the SemWeb is so incredibly exclusive in an ivory-towerish way. I agree. However, what is to say that the SemWeb won’t be able to accommodate a broader audience in the future? We’ll just need to wait and see.

(3) Complex systems must be built from successively simpler system - I agree with this point. Google is successful in the search engine wars because it learnt how to build up slowly, and created a simple system that got more complex as it needed to. People love Web 2.0 because they’re easy to use and understand. But whereas Web 2.0 was about searching, the SemWeb should be about finding. Nobody said C+ and Java were easy, but complexity pays off in the long run.

(4) A new solution should stop an obvious pain - The SemWeb needs to prove what problems it can solve, and prove its purpose. Right now, Web 2.0 and 1.0 do a good job, so why would we need any more? Fair enough. But information is still in silos. Until we open up the data web, we’re still in many ways living in the dark.

(5) People aren’t perfect - Creating metadata and classifications is difficult. People are sloppy. Will adding SemWeb rules add to the mess that is the Web? I seriously can’t answer this one. We can only predict. But perhaps it’s too cynical to prematurely write off people’s metadata creating skills. HTML wasn’t easy, but we managed.

(6) You don’t need an ontology of everything. But it would help - Zambonini argues for a top-down ontology which would a one-fits-all solution for the entire Web rather than building from a bottom-up approach based on folksonomies of the social web. I would argue that for this to work, we need to look at it from different angles. Perhaps we can meet half way?

(7) Philanthropy isn’t commercially viable - Why would any sane organization buy into the SemWeb and expose their data? We need that killer application in order for this to work. Agree. Ebay did wonders. Let’s hope there’s a follow-up on the way.

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