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Re: Hacker rally questionnaire draft, take 2

From: Kjetil Kjernsmo <kjetilk@opera.com>
Date: Fri, 12 Jan 2007 12:17:47 +0100
To: "W3C SWEO IG" <public-sweo-ig@w3.org>
Message-Id: <200701121217.48390.kjetilk@opera.com>

On Thursday 11 January 2007 17:01, Kingsley Idehen wrote:
> Starting a conversation is just that. I don't see how the notion of
> "hackers" and their feelings come into play here per se. We just want
> to have a conversation about the relevance of the Semantic Web to Web
> Developers. During this conversation we explore usage scenarios and
> possible solutions or seek: "How would the Semantic Web address this
> problem..." type commentary. This kind of thing happens every other
> second across the blogosphere today. We just need to being SWEO into
> this mix by seeding relevant conversations.


Well, this depends on your perspective. My perspective is this: Outside 
of the Semantic Web community I have seen little of that commentary, to 
the contrary, to me it seems like 90% of our audience allready thinks 
we have failed miserably. They think that semweb is only talk, but that 
it is hardly possible to get things to run, because it is too complex. 
They think it is a dream of a small number of reality-detached 
academics. 

What they can cite is that RSS was not successful before it abandoned 
RDF (not entirely true of course, but still). Mozilla has had RDF 
support for years, but to leading figures there, it has had no value at 
all, even though they hardly understood it from the beginning. People 
who have understood RDF well includes Aaron Swartz, who allready told 
this list that "now SW has such a bad rap that I wonder if it's too 
late."

In this context, "How would the Semantic Web address this problem..." 
commentary is meaningless, because it is only talk. There has been 
enough talk, in fact, there has been far too much talk. People are sick 
of it, and more talk will only underline the presumption that we have 
failed. 

I believe it is not possible to reach out beyond the Semantic Web 
community with conversation at this point. It is too late. The train 
left the station. The rocket has been launched. There are too many 
high-profile failed attempts to use SW technologies out there and 
hardly any prominent success stories.  

There are a few things that can reverse this trend. One thing is 
widespread adoption in at the enterprise level, something that is 
clearly happening, such as the Norwegian oil industry, which will make 
SW technologies a job requirement. Another thing is academic adoption, 
which will expose a lot of students to it. It took only two such 
students to start Yahoo and another two to start Google. These things 
are also happening, as there are a few academic programs that include 
it, and projects including the Mesur project at LANL and Virtual 
Observatory for astronomy. A third possibility is that it spreads from 
entertainment industry projects, such as the Venice Project.
It could certainly spread from these angles, but I fear that all these 
things will be backend-deployments, it will not really expose the data 
to the web, and on the web, there are few programmers who actually use 
it. That's not really the Semantic Web, is it?

As a big part of the early web, beyond the High Energy Physics 
community, was personal homepages with a lot of pretty interesting 
stuff, I think it is equally important to have on board a large number 
of individuals. I think it is extremely important to reach out to them, 
but as they think that all they need to know is that the Semantic Web 
has been tried and failed, there is only one thing that I think is 
meaningful to do at this point, and that's to stop talking and prove 
them wrong with code. Genuinely useful stuff. And we have to create it 
ourselves.

And that's why hacker's feelings are not only relevant, but extremely 
important, because they are the only ones who can do it. I'm not even 
trying to appeal to the bloggers outside of the SW community because I 
think I allready know what they think ("bad rap"). I have such a great 
intellectual investment in the Semantic Web, that I want to write the 
code to make it work, but I know other hackers who doesn't feel quite 
the same allthough they would actively participate if we don't give 
them the impression that this is something that they must do, but 
something that's interesting to them.

There is certainly value in engaging the average web developer in 
conversations about SW, as we get a better overview of what they 
actually think. It is probably not quite as categorical as I say above, 
especially since you say people are talking about it. It could also, 
with time, motivate some to do something practical, but I see that as 
orthogonal (or at least 80 degrees in Euclidian geometry :-) ) to my 
initiative here. My initiative here is to gather hackers allready 
interested in the Semantic Web and produce a quick consensus around 
what's interesting, and then do it with least possible talk involved. 

Cheers,

Kjetil
-- 
Kjetil Kjernsmo
Semantic Web Specialist
Opera Software ASA
Received on Friday, 12 January 2007 11:18:12 GMT

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