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

From: Paul Walsh, Segala <paulwalsh@segala.com>
Date: Thu, 9 Nov 2006 13:48:15 -0000
To: "'Ivan Herman'" <ivan@w3.org>, <jeff.pollock@oracle.com>
Cc: <public-sweo-ig@w3.org>
Message-Id: <20061109134813.8938B3FC44251@postie1.hosting365.ie>

I can't disagree with any of the comments being made thus far. However, I'm
in violent agreement with Jeff and I love his thought process. 


I would like to propose that this group stop talking about technologies.
Talking about technologies is one of the reasons for the Semantic Web being
widely misunderstood and misrepresented by even the most qualified people.

Instead I would like to propose we focus on:

1. Situation
What is the current situation - landscape, perceived 'competition' 

2. Problem
What problem are we fixing or changing

3. Implication
If we don't do this what will happen

4. Need (Pay- Off)
If we do do this what will happen

Most of the world doesn't know what terms such as ontology and RDF mean, so
let's start to use a language that's understandable and leave the techie
stuff to the relevant working groups within the W3C. I've been attending and
organising many events where I discuss this kind of stuff. Very few
(qualified) people think the Semantic Web is understood, so let us focus on
the benefits to commercially driven organisations. I'd like to propose that
we use user friendly terminology to help focus on what the public already
understand. This will allow us to 'pick low hanging fruit'. 

RDF = Metadata - flexible metadata that's not yet utilised by search engines
and browsers. When it's put to use, it will enable users to find what they
are looking for and trust what they find. Personalised search based on
Yahoo! and Google personal profiles is not scalable, standardised and to be
frank, is crap.

FOAF = personal/company profile using metadata - this can enable trust for
people and companies. Example; users can have the same profile for eBay and
Bebo and can be rated by the general public in a secure and trusted manner. 

Ontology = metadata used for different reasons / example - Content
Labelling. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology - ok, so I'm not as smart
as most people on this list, but what the hell is the explanation on
wikipedia all about!!

To address Neil's question about security and ID; I suggested to Philip
Hallam-Baker and senior management at VeriSign, that SSL Certificates were
'so yesterday' <g>. I suggested that Certificates made up of metadata
(Content Labels) were more scalable, standardised (well, soon I hope if the
WCL-XG can move onto a formal recommendation track!), more flexible and
cheaper to implement. Guess what, they didn't argue with me when I showed
them a browser that reads metadata in the same way it reads SSL Certificates
to display a trusted icon in the status bar.

So, Content Labelling can be used to help users find and trust sites that
are secure, trusted for their identity, accessible, child safe,
independently verified by a medical authority, suitable for Muslims, comply
with advertising code of conduct... the list goes on. All of this could have
different levels of trust; not labelled, self labelled and independently
verified and labelled.

The Semantic Web = enabling search engines and browsers to provide more
trustworthy and relevant search results for users. It's not about enabling a
toaster to communicate with a Web site.

Long story short, I ended up chatting with one of the founders of Bebo and
birthday alarm (combined membership of more than 40 million users) last
night. I didn't talk about how he could embrace the Semantic Web. Instead, I
talked about how he could provide users with a profile in metadata. He found
this interesting and will now talk to one of my techies to learn more.

Perhaps we need to rename the 'Semantic Web' to 'Web 3.0 service pack 4'.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Kind regards,

-----Original Message-----
From: public-sweo-ig-request@w3.org [mailto:public-sweo-ig-request@w3.org]
On Behalf Of Ivan Herman
Sent: 09 November 2006 11:45
To: jeff.pollock@oracle.com
Cc: public-sweo-ig@w3.org
Subject: Re: Myths of the Semantic Web - Popular Misconceptions for Why it
Won't Work

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
> 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
> 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
> the way people really work
> Of course these are misconceptions of the gravest kind, and also
> 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
> 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,
> 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
> 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
> 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
> vast amounts of SemWeb data in this manner by storing the XML
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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 13:48:31 UTC

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