Posts Tagged ‘semantic web

Lee Feigenbaum’s presentation on the evolution of the semantic web was recently delivered at MIT. A key take-out for me was this summary slide on the benefits to a sales-focused business of being able to understand a richer picture of customers and their behaviour than feasible with relational database tables.

The full presentation also includes illustrated timelines of how web technology arrived at where it is now…

Watch for the warning signs of push cancer. Push is about vendor lock-in and proprietary data strategies. Apple and Facebook are push companies—they will both face strong competition from the open web. They will both have to change their cultures to embrace pull or they will become much smaller

David Siegel

Filtering and sorting all of the information online is a major problem for our age: agreed.

The semantic web can give context to all the data we have: coding the relationships between it, helping us to find it easier. This is a good thing, right?

But then we might consider questions about categorisation, labelling, power, agreement.  

Abraham Bernstein and David Karger argue for the ‘sloppy, scruffy’ semantic web. That instead of an ontology (a formal, shared conceptualisation and associated vocabulary) a little structure can go a long way. I must agree.

Tim Berners-Lee states in this video that he ‘can’t imagine what people will do’ with the semantic web. His engineering rationale has his sights set on a robust solution, not as much on what will come after. This is perhaps understandable, given the success of the www. However when he developed the web it was with sharing in mind; in developing the semantic web, what is it? In one word? Is it control?   

This isn’t an argument against control; but for remembering pluralism, even if it leads to messiness. For the alternative is the closing down of alternatives, which is worse. Crucial for semantic web engineers to consider is not only what users will do with it, but:

a) what users may not do with it

b) what users can possibly do about, what they realise is impossible

A system for linking all of the information in the world together, and making those links make sense, implies agreement on a vast scale. In constructing this innovation, openness and the capacity for its evolution are essential. Chantal Mouffe’s words seem apt to recall here, that, “no regime, not even a liberal one, can pretend to have a privileged claim on rationality.”

Watch the video on 

In 2001 Cass Sunstein warned us of the ‘daily me’ – where we would all use the Internet to find what we are already interested in, and move very little away from our own comfortable ideas, prejudices and interests. That actually we would become more extreme, holding our beliefs even more strongly as we spent more and more time around virtual people who agree with us. Mashable’s Top 5 Twitter Trends to Watch Right Now highlights Brian Solis‘s prediction that:

 “the future of Twitter is semantic intelligence, where what you click, what you read, and what you do, act to determine what you like, with applications serving you the tweets you really want.”

But before we all start rushing to getting exactly what we want and expect in our twitter feed, we need to consider the richness that enters our lives when we are faced with the unfamilliar. Of course, endless adverts to make money online are not likely to make for a stimulating online experience, but semantic intelligence that routes us towards items we are bound to like may take us too far up ourselves, so to speak.

If you are left or right, liberal or otherwise, green or Chelsea tractor-driving, our virtual web community will be better for us all if we still pass one another on the street, rather than congregate together with people who all look and talk and think the way we do. Perhaps it would be better to have to deal with a few boring / inappropriate tweets than consign ourselves to intellectual echo-chambers.

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