In defense of the Semantic Web, Again.

With the official announcement that RDF is in Drupal core and the Semantic Web conference in DC, I wanted to take time to respond to “tales of a semantic web skeptic”. Healthy criticism, and a good read.

This piece is to defend the vision, if not the execution.

I helped get RDF into Drupal and spoke on the topic at two DrupalCons (one in Brussels and the other in Barcelona). No credit beyond that belongs to me, I’ve done no development on it since.

Arguments are mostly semantic about the semantic web. The computer science is done, the technology is used in real world applications in genetics, law, and military applications.

What is perhaps a PR shift is to differentiate the upper-case and lower-case semantic web.

The semantic web:

  • a data exchange standard for graph based meta data and logical meta data
  • a webservice with a standardized API
  • a graph database, or other specialized store
  • consumers or Agents

The Semantic Web (a la W3C)

  • RDF(S), RDFa, OWL(S), etc
  • REST/ SPARQL
  • Sesame, Jena, YARS, Redland, etc
  • Semantic Agents

Microformats and popularizations are all good. Folksonomy instead of Taxonomy – Clay Shirky, or rather, the mob (you and I) he describes, is hard to argue with. To mash up verified, trusted content in federated queries from heterogeneous data sources is cool to me, but not everyone.

Tim Berners-Less talk at Ted changes the term to “Linked Data”. That makes sense. I think there’s a struggle to create a revolution and an industry again – something with as big an impact as the web. Linked data is the web Sir Web wants/wanted. But the first web didn’t happen because a few folks wanted it. We needed it. As the YCombinator mantra goes “make something people want”. Making Semantic Web software has, in the past, made Semantic Web people happy… but not too many others (I have first hand experience in this).

A final two points:

Maybe it’s fair to say the community may be too top-down. Luckily, freedom of speech extends to computer code.

Not everyone is going to be inspired and “believe” in grand visions. Artificial intelligence is perfect analogy. Our culture has adopted the term – for better or worse – to mean lots of things.

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