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« The Unauthorized Life | Main | "Recapturing the fun and excitement of journalism" »

Monday, April 16, 2012


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I agree with a lot of what you say, in particular that recognition by Google and the other search engines is significant. But I must take issue with one key point: the Semantic Web has never been top-down, and is certainly not about a global ontology.

The RDF model that's the basis for Semantic Web technologies is based around two simple ideas:
1. you can identify anything with a URI (a person, a product, a concept), not just Web pages
2. a Web link can specify the relationship between two things with URIs, i.e. going a step further than typical links between pages (which you could interpret as meaning "somehow related")

The rest of the technologies are about how to make use of these ideas. It's primarily bottom-up, by design, just like the Web. It's no coincidence that the inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has been one of the leading lights around Semantic Web development. It's essentially the same Web.

Anyone can create their own vocabulary/ontology, and there are hundreds, if not thousands around. Ok, it's considered good practice to reuse existing terms, but that's not mandated anywhere.

The data itself can be (and is being) created by anyone, for guidance on how to check http://linkeddata.org/.

You say "we'll have tapped into the same emergent property that generated Wikipedia" - well that specifically has already been tapped into, see http://dbPedia.org

There have been recent developments around expressing data in HTML: microformats, RDFa and HTML5 microdata (which can all be interpreted as RDF), and it's those that Google and co. are mostly keying off. But the basic ideas haven't changed.

Finally, you're absolutely right to say "It's not that complex. It doesn't require any exotic programs.".

Bernard Vatant

To go along with Danny, I don't know where you get the impression of this "grand top-down vision". From the beginning, the Semantic Web has rather been developing along the lines of ontological diversity ... maybe too much diversity and lack of coordination, actually ...
And Google has not *built* this "bottom-up directory of meaning", it has just cleverly *harvested* it like it has harvested everything else of value on the Web.


Yep. Got it. I see the problem with writing rules that allow the "wrangling of every fact" (allowing for the diversity you speak of) as a top-down problem. It's created an infrastructure (XML/RDF/OWL/CURIE, etc.) that anyone can use, but it hasn't created incentives for enough people to use that infrastructure. We built it, but they didn't come.

So I don't want to argue over whether dbpedia is an emergent property of Wikipedia (my point was that cooperation was the emergent property) or a better representation of the structured information within Wikipedia, or whether data (however acquired) has value outside of a structure. I'm interested in what we can do with this motion.

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