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Re: Myths of the Semantic Web - Popular Misconceptions for Why it Won't Work

From: Ivan Herman <ivan@w3.org>
Date: Thu, 09 Nov 2006 12:45:23 +0100
Message-ID: <455314D3.1090607@w3.org>
To: jeff.pollock@oracle.com
Cc: public-sweo-ig@w3.org
Jeff (and others)

I have completed some times ago a draft for a SW-FAQ:


it is a _*draft*_ but may be a good start. But the 'melody' of some of
the questions you ask are certainly familiar:-)

Although the face to face should give a somewhat more precise set up of
how and on what the group will work, I think to finalize this FAQ would
be really good. The text can then be used for various other outreach
material, too.


Jeff Pollock wrote:
> SWEO Group-
> I am at the airport now after participating in a panel talk at the InfoWorld
> SOA Executive Forum (actually filling in for Susie who had prior
> commitments) and there was some discussion that I thought relevant to our
> efforts here.
> Of the many hesitations and criticisms raised about the Semantic Web vision,
> the two most prominent ones were essentially the following:
> (1) The Semantic Web requires people to (re) tag everything, and
> (2) The Semantic Web is a top down (central ontology) approach that eschews
> the way people really work
> Of course these are misconceptions of the gravest kind, and also persistent
> untruths that have lingered around for many years.  I personally would
> consider SWEO a successes if these memes can somehow be reversed.
> The broader theme replayed here, among other sources in popular media, was
> that Web 2.0 is by the people, for the people - whereas Semantic Web is by
> the academics and not really useful for much at all.
> My approach at this panel was to build upon an example levied by the
> moderator with GIS (geographic information systems) as the topic area. We
> were in the midst of discussing how the semantic web can disambiguate the
> term "location," when the moderator assumes that "lat" and "long" are
> universally accepted attributes of location.
> I used an example developed by myself, Xavier Lopez (oracle), and  John
> Goodwin (UK Ordnance Survey) last year. Consider the concept,
> "EmergencyEvacuationCenter" (EEC) the semantic web languages allow us to
> specify this concept declaratively as the intersection of multiple
> attributes, perhaps including, "SquareFootage," "FacilityTypes,"
> "Elevation," "ProximityToFloodBarriers," etc. Since we can do this
> declaratively, we absolutely do not need to tag "Building" data in multiple
> databases directly as being (or not being) an "EmergencyEvacuationCenter."
> Instead, different user communities may define the attributes of an EEC in
> their own way (eg: policies) and declaratively retrieve data about which
> Buildings fit their own definition of EEC directly. Thus, neither
> "exhaustive tagging" nor a "shared definition" of what an
> "EmergencyEvacuationCenter" is defined as need be required.
> In this way, we can support a continuously evolving set of multiple, equally
> valid "truths" about the data. Decidedly different from Web 2.0.
> Another, more accurate IMHO, issue raised with the Semantic Web has to do
> with the archival aspect of decades worth of data. When the scope of data
> analysis needs to span years, decades, and centuries, both the scale and
> provenance capability of a SemWeb infrastructure can be brought into
> question.  I don't have any pat answers to dissuade this concern, but maybe
> some of you here do.  Please share.
> One possible, albeit limited, approach is to consider the metaphor of a
> "Jukebox" verses an iPod.  When we listen to music on an iPod, all our songs
> are there (eg: on the hard drive) available instantaneously - however, in
> the days of a Jukebox, the machine had to mechanically fetch an album and
> put it under the needle to play. Similarly, I think there is a way to handle
> vast amounts of SemWeb data in this manner by storing the XML serialization
> separately from the place where instantiate the Graph. In other words,
> possibly using straight text search (such as Google) to find sets of
> historic models which are then individually loaded and instantiated within a
> graph database, abox or whatever for runtime queries using the inference
> expressivity available in that moment.
> Of course this won't work where graph edges need to be materialized from
> property relations that span an entire and complete set of historic models -
> but since the current state of the art prevents the loading of 100's or
> 1000's of billions of triples/individuals we must find some viable, if
> partial, workarounds for the community. In the past I've heard this notion
> discussed as "waxing the floor" - when we wax our floors routinely, we only
> wax the 10% that gets the highest traffic. Similarly, we need not
> instantiate (materialize) entire graphs at once, instead only instantiate
> the sets that most probably relevant to the query at hand.
> Shifting gears.
> Paul's link & comments
> [http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-sweo-ig/2006Oct/0027.html] as
> well as mine [above] regarding the criticisms levied at the semantic web
> should cause us to take pause, then perhaps take inventory of the public's
> current misperceptions.  Once we can say that we've addressed current
> misunderstandings, with exemplar use cases perhaps, then perhaps we can move
> along to suggest even more broad-based and visionary value. It seems to me
> that we should first start by getting people past the intellectual hurdle
> that the Semantic Web is more than "research fun" by pointing out where
> their assumptions are incorrect.
> I tried to address this, albeit briefly, in a blog last year
> [http://alwayson.goingon.com/permalink/post/5629] where I discussed the
> popular myths of the Semantic Web.  One thing that seems as much true today
> as it did then is that Clay Shirkey's simplistic critique of the Semantic
> Web [http://www.shirky.com/writings/semantic_syllogism.html] is still being
> referenced by many as their understanding for why this won't succeed.
> There are plenty of "Myths" out there, such as:
> -	Semantic Web makes you tag everything again
> -	Semantic Web requires a single global ontology
> -	Semantic Web won't scale enough to be useful
> -	Semantic Web is too complex for people to ever understand
> -	Semantic Web is only about trivial syllogisms
> -	Semantic Web is not substantively better than XML
> -	Semantic Web is for academia
> -     Semantic Web is top down, whereas Web 2.0 is bottom up (thus better)
> There are powerful examples for why each of these is untrue - does this
> group feel it would be worthwhile to collectively deliver a message about
> these popularisms?
> -Jeff-
> -----Original Message-----
> Hi to Jeff and all those who introduced themselves recently.
> Thought you might be interested to see this from TechCrunch UK
> http://uk.techcrunch.com/2006/10/30/tagging-microformats-and-rss-beat-the-se
> mantic-web/ 
> Paul


Ivan Herman, W3C Semantic Web Activity Lead
URL: http://www.w3.org/People/Ivan/
PGP Key: http://www.cwi.nl/%7Eivan/AboutMe/pgpkey.html
FOAF: http://www.ivan-herman.net/foaf.rdf

Received on Thursday, 9 November 2006 11:45:36 UTC

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