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Re: off-topic on Beijing Re: BOF meeting on Semantic Web Search Engines at WWW 2008

From: Dan Brickley <danbri@danbri.org>
Date: Fri, 25 Apr 2008 10:36:56 +0100
Message-ID: <4811A638.3020802@danbri.org>
To: Golda Velez <gv@btucson.com>
Cc: Semantic Web <semantic-web@w3.org>

Golda Velez wrote:

> End of digression.  Email me if you want further info.

It's a big planet, and many of its (our...) governments do truly hideous 
things to people in other parts of it. I appreciate how you feel about 
Burma but this is really the wrong vehicle for expressing it. Just as I 
wouldn't use semantic-web@w3.org to urge visitors to the UK or US to 
help stop the awfulness in Iraq, and so on. As chair of this (very 
international) Interest Group I don't want to be in a situation of 
saying which situations are urgent, awful or disgusting enough to use 
this mailing list for emergency appeals.

I'm not complaining about off-topic-ness here: we have enough rambling 
or dull discussion here that it is fine to bring everyone's attention 
back to the the things that really matter; matters of life and death. In 
the context of what's happening out there, an offtopic email is *nothing*.

Rather, I'm urging that you find other means to deliver political and 
human-rights messages to like-minded conference attendees (eg. 
dopplr.com's APIs might help you find friends and friends who are 
attending the conference). Every day we read stomach-churning news that 
can make our technical interests and disagreements here seem trivial and 
petty... but we can't turn this list into a world crisis bulletin-board. 
We really can't.

There are other, better ways to reach people, persuade people of 
evidence, showing people what life elsewhere is like. And figuring out 
how to improve those mechanisms is 100% on-topic for this list: the 
Semantic Web is a project to improve the Web so that it better reflects 
what is happening in the world around us, a world seen through layers 
competing, interlinked claims and counter-claims. (Anyone who tells you 
otherwise has got lost in the detail.)

In that vein, the most interesting thing I read yesterday is the site at 
http://www.debategraph.org/ ... a vaguely RDFesque system for making 
explicit the structure of debate and disagreement. It breaks emotive, 
complex topics down into a Web of themes, claims and other 
sub-structure. This perhaps gives a better granularity for attaching 
information about the credibility/support for each claim. When people 
ask, "what is really happening out there?", and turn to the Web, 
wondering "what evidence is there for this claim", the Web doesn't yet 
do a good job. It doesn't help them evaluate the claims they hear on TV 
or in the tabloids ("Saddam has nukes", "there's ethnic cleansing in 
Burma", "Obama eats babies", ...). We do have pagerank, blogs, and so 
on, but nothing structured in terms of evidential support for specific 
claims. I think we can and should do better, and that the focus of the 
Semantic Web community would be profitably spent on this area of work. I 
firmly believe the Web will mature to give us a better claim-based, 
provenance-based infrastructure for evaluating such claims. But it'll 
take time, and every year that passes without it is one in which people 
will remain dangerously misinformed about the world around them. For 
better or worse, this list has to stay focussed on on making technical 
progress. Sorry if that sounds somehow callous...

 > Ok, this is not RDF-related unless someone has the vocabulary to say it

I don't think the technical issue is exactly one of vocabulary here. 
Rather it is one of being able to make an overwhelming case "this is 
happening" grounded in documentary evidence published in the Web. Partly 
a matter of weighing the credibility and authority of sources, of 
providing a representation for the claims those sources make about the 
world. But also a matter of user interface (something often neglected in 
the SemWeb scene): how do we get from giving people access to the raw 
facts, ... to getting them to care, and to act?

Dan

--
Semantic Web IG chair
http://danbri.org/
Received on Friday, 25 April 2008 09:37:32 UTC

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