November 7, 2003
Clay Shirky waxes skeptical about the Semantic Web.
Which is to say, almost nowhere.
The Semantic Web is not an all-or-nothing proposition; it is a rubric describing a set of distinct (though related) technologies - RDF, FOAF, OWL, RSS, XML - all of which are designed to improve machine-to-machine communication through the use of more descriptive, context-aware meta-data. And those technologies, like it or not, are already here - a point that Shirky manages to skirt.
Venting most of his spleen on the apparent futility of trying to apply uniform meta-data standards to the Web, Shirky describes why such an undertaking is ultimately doomed to failure (no argument here). But in dismissing the possibility of a grand, all-encompassing Semantic Web, he either neglects or refuses to acknowledge the many smaller victories already taking place, like the real, tangible impact of RDF, RSS, and Web services. Though certainly it's a long way from the Alexandrian fantasies of its more breathless boosters, the foundations of the Semantic Web are already taking shape.Shirky also puts forward a crucially flawed argument about the Semantic Web being predicated on the development of global, universal ontologies. With OWL and RDF, this is expressly _not_ the point of the Semantic Web. RDF's primary reason for being is to let local communities of interest create their own ontologies - not to enforce some nefarious New World Order of authoritarian classification systems.
For a more balanced perspective, allow me to recommend Which Semantic Web?, referenced here a couple of weeks ago, in which the authors convincincly conclude that:
File under: Semantic Web_____________________
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