Category Archives: Tim O'Reilly

Buzz: Semantic Web in The Economist and on Tim’s Radar

It’s been Tim O’Reilly who wrote on his "Radar"about the perception of the Semantic Web as it has been reported by The Economist in a mistaken context recently, as a sort of name for any Web 2.0 application which seems to think — supposed to be many of them.
   Though, Tim uses the opportunity for an explanaition where he thinks the differences are and where the two may come together. The day after, he quotes different approaches and hurdles towards making semantic content reality.
 
Here is, what I commented on the articles:

Being a Semantic Web project leader myself, one major difference between the Semantic Web (narrower sense) and Web 2.0 to me seems that the latter for most people (including myself) is describing an outcome or at least a resulting type of application, while the first one obviously is just one of many available vehicles to achieve this outcome.
 
Using the Semantic Web as a way to build a Web 2.0 application has obvious disadvantages:

  1. You need much longer to get your pants on: There are about 1,400 pages of standards and methods between you and your first app and even more documentation assumed to be missing for the tools you are about to use in order to get it programmed…
  2. Your learning curve is pretty steep, even until you and your crew just got the most basic concepts. We ended up, splitting the tasks of programming (JAVA recommended) and data-modelling/markup-writing between different people, as it turned out that both tasks required a quite different mindset.

On the other hand it turned out, that with all of the additional work come some quite unexpected results:

  1. If you do it properly, you really only got to do it once. We actually found ourselves reusing our first creations quite early, as well as deploying those provided by other people with ease. The Semantic Web’s consequent standardization approach really allows you repurposing your stuff quite early — just like many others claimed it before and you never got there.
  2. Semantic Web data clearly takes away the pain from sharing data accross company- or other technical boundaries, because you already got your processing in place for whatever is going to come in from out there or vice versa.

Our result: If you are really about to create a single-domain application with only a limited need to exchange data with the outside (such as users ubloading files or developers submitting a bunch of parameters), most likely the Semantic Web approach will be a waste of production time and therefore money (at least until better developer tools become available).
 
Nevertheless, the more different and independent (!) from each other the various parties are (for instance when you may be building an exchange or trading platform) who are supposed to use the resulting applications, the more it’s probably worth considering to go through the accompanying hassle and get your feet wet with Semantic Web technologies.

Some currently argue that the Semantic Web (which I am admittedly very passionate about…) will never become real or at least useful, because it would need to many people to translate everything on the web and in the world into semantic expressions.
   But who talked about everything ? Prominent non-semantic applications like Wikipedia or even search engines’ ‘suggest’ features have shown us, that enough to be useful can be reached within several thousands, rather than millions or billions of entries.
   Which is (with regard to the web’s global scale) not very much actually… — especially as the Semantic Web technology has already been adopted for real applications (often just for internal use) by companies such as Adobe, Vodafone, Audi (the carmaker) and a bunch of well-known others.
 
This seems to me being quite similar to the early XML adoption at the end of last century: No-one really knew if this was going to be useful or just an IT fad as they had already seen so many.

So let’s handle Semantic Web technology just like we did it back then with XML: Wait, and see what people are going to figure out which purposes this is usable for… :-) :-)

 
What do YOU think ?  Is this the way to go ?  Any other elaborate concepts ?  I’d really appreciate to hear your input on this !!!