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RE: [seweb-list] A discussion: Is semantic web an old fashioned idea?Is it bubble,unworthy or an interesting research area - Post your c omments

From: Peter Crowther <Peter.Crowther@melandra.com>
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004 12:10:41 +0100
Message-ID: <DDBBD1E00935D144AB9563D57EF98D6254AE@raccoon.melandra.net>
To: "Jean-Luc Delatre" <jld@club-internet.fr>
Cc: <kaw@swi.psy.uva.nl>, <acl@opus.cs.columbia.edu>, <www-rdf-interest@w3.org>, <www-annotation@w3.org>, <ontology@fipa.org>, <seweb-list@www1-c703.uibk.ac.at>, <irlist-editor@acm.org>, <ontoweb-list@www1-c703.uibk.ac.at>, <daml-all@daml.org>, <semanticweb@yahoogroups.com>

> From: Jean-Luc Delatre [mailto:jld@club-internet.fr] 
> Is the Semantic Web a realistic endeavour
> or just a SCAM aimed at collecting funds 
> from research, VCs or otherwise?

Well... as someone who was on WebOnt and who founded a company (and got VC funding) based partly on ideas about the Semantic Web, I've got a few comments on that.  Note that I left the company (and WebOnt) at the end of 2002 due to health problems.  These are a fairly mixed bag, I know; let's see if they add some fuel to the fire.  Note that these are all personal opinions; they may or may not be the views of W3C, any other member of WebOnt, any member of any company I have ever worked for, or indeed any of my cats.

1) Ontological and mixed ontology/rule systems have, in my opinion, shown that they can provide an appropriate basis for single-machine and intranet applications.  Public examples include PEN&PAD and AT&T's exchange configuration system (there are others).  Note that there is control over the application domain and the ontology in use in both of these applications.

2) Practical approaches for dealing with larger and more complex ontologies (in particular) are being developed.  I don't expect ontology size to be a limiting factor, nor do I expect instance size to be a limiting factor *in practical systems*.  However, approaches to reasoning in the face of conflicting information are not as well developed, and this required part of the Semantic Web architecture is, in my view, woefully lacking.

3) Far too much faith has been placed and is being placed on one architecture slide that Tim Berners-Lee created, showing RDF as the substrate for the entire Semantic Web.  This slide is at the root of many of the political and practical problems of the Semantic Web, and should have been ceremonially burned long ago.  Unfortunately, it's probably too late to change now - at least within the W3C-supported Semantic Web initiative.  RDF (any version) is far too limited in its expressive power to be a useful substrate, and the idea of building all the other layers on top of it is akin to trying to build a communications framework on Morse code when you have dots but no dashes.

4) Whether or not the Semantic Web is itself a realistic endeavour (and I think that depends on your definition of 'Semantic Web' as I think almost everyone has their own view of what this means), the technologies and techniques developing for/around it are finding practical applications.  Commercial organisations with some very hard-nosed investment policies are putting money on good bets in this space, and there's increasing evidence that they'll get a good return.  *However*, typical applications at this time are intranet applications where there's good control over the problem domain.

I don't think it's a scam, as useful technology is coming out of it.  However, the Semantic Web may be rather like ARPANET, where the technology went through several evolutions before it became stable, scaleable and useful outside a small group, and where it became widely used because it was an available means to an end rather than necessarily because it was any good in itself.

Just my 0.02.

		- Peter
Received on Thursday, 17 June 2004 07:11:45 GMT

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