[By Nic Lindh on Tuesday, 11 November 2003]
The web as it stands today is full of interesting things that only make sense to humans. But it would be nice if we could get our computers to understand the sea of data out there. Imagine instead of using Google or some other search engine to drill down to the information we’re after, getting side tracked and side slammed in the process, there was some way to organize all this information so it makes sense for the machines. Thus the dream of the semantic web.
The basic idea of the semantic web, as I understand it, is to create agreed-upon metadata–“data about data”–in a format digestible by computers called Resource Description Framework (RDF).
In his latest essay, Clay Shirky analyzes the semantic web idea, essentially viewing it as a syllogism engine. Shirky is getting a lot of pushback, accusing him of using a straw man argument and missing the point. Fair enough.
Several years ago, Cory Doctorow released an essay unassumingly titled Metacrap: Putting the torch to seven straw-men of the meta-utopia. It’s a very interesting rant, focusing on the problem of creating metadata that computers can understand and people can agree on.
The best we can probably hope for is that within certain spaces, people and/or companies will agree on certain frameworks and use them to enable better data handling. My biggest worry is that the idea will turn into a committee monster, growing ever more unwieldy and diffuse. Let’s remember that the web took off in the first place because it’s simple.