The Semantic Web

I’ve been catching up on my reading this weekend and one of my favorite offline reads is Technology Review, MIT’s technology magazine.

This month, they have a cover article which is an interview with Tim Berners-Lee. As an aside, my daughter Jessica asked me who the guy on the cover was. I told her he invented the web. She said, “wow. he’s my hero”. I write this as I consider the irony of creating an HTML link to an interview with the guy who conceived of hyperlinking.

Anyway, as many of you know Tim’s energy is now going into the semantic web. The idea behind the semantic web, as I like to think of it, is to turn everything on the web into a global database where the data becomes semi-structured. If, or when, this happens (depending on your view of the semantic web), the ability to write applications that implicitly understand web content will be simple.

An example Tim gives in the interview is a web page about a seminar he wants to attend. If the web page is constructed in line with the semantic web, all the applications he uses (calendar, rolodex, email, GPS, etc) would easily grab the information each application needs and his life would be a lot simpler as a result. I think its a nice example, but in some ways greatly simplifies what the potential of a semantic web could produce.

There are a lot of people who don’t buy this semantic web vision. The nickname pedantic web sort of sums up the complaints.

I think the best argument I’ve read against the semantic web was written by Clay Shirkey about a year ago. Clay argues in a very compelling way that the basic assumptions behind the construction of the semantic web are flawed.

I honestly don’t know enough to say if Tim is right or if Clay is right. But I do know this. Meta-data is the future of the web. Wheter it will be sematic web or some other construct remains to be seen.

If you’ve got opinions on this topic, I’d love to read them in the comments section of this post.