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Re: What Happened to the Semantic Web?

From: Krzysztof Janowicz <janowicz@ucsb.edu>
Date: Wed, 11 Nov 2015 10:21:07 -0800
To: public-lod@w3.org
Cc: Frank van Harmelen <Frank.van.Harmelen@cs.vu.nl>
Message-ID: <56438713.3050700@ucsb.edu>
Hi Ruben, all,

> For me, the Semantic Web vision has always been about clients.
> It's a democratic principle of publishing and consuming data:
> everyone can say anything about anything,
> but everyone should also be able to consume that data.

You are making an interesting point here that also reminds me of Frank 
van Harmelen's Keynote at ISWC 2011 
(http://www.cs.vu.nl/~frankh/spool/ISWC2011Keynote/ ; see the 'earth 
globe slide' slide). It looks like we are making progress on distributed 
computing but distributed *data-consumption* seems to be a very 
difficult problem. This is why you see Google and other talking our work 
and data and centralizing them. It is simply a performance and data 
conflation/curation issue.

I agree that this is not what we dreamed about and that we have a long 
way to go, but I agree with Kingsley that we should be very happy and 
maybe even proud that our core ideas and *paradigms* have revolutionized 
web search, intelligent personal assistants, and so forth. Keep in mind 
that the job of the industry is to make things simple and scalable. 
Large parts of Google's success rely on simplicity, ease of access, and 
performance. Linked Data, semantic technologies, and most importantly 
*insights* from Semantic Web research are used all over the place now 
including governments, industry, and other fields in academia.

I still strongly believe in the vision of a distributed, open, free, and 
dynamic web of semantically rich data to which everybody can contribute 
and which everybody can consume. This is a wonderful vision and stands 
in contrast to the data one-way streets of the Silicon Valley. We will 
get there, but it will take more time. In the meanwhile, it is very 
useful for us to learn which parts of the Semantic Web are already ready 
for prime time and currently this prime time happens where the big 
players and the big money are.

IMHO, the key issue that is holding some of our work back is a 
fundamental misunderstanding of what semantics really is and how it 
emerges. Many of us seem to believe that what defines a good use of 
Semantic Web technologies (aka the killer app) involves complicated and 
large ontologies that are axiomatized using the most powerful of our KR 
languages and that make full use of our reasoners. As Kingsley and 
others argued, the real killer apps are already out there. They make use 
of URIs as global identifiers, the idea of linking data, identity 
relations such as sameAs, the tiny bit of reasoning (mostly exploiting 
transitive properties) that enriches and expands search results, and so 

The Semantic Web should be a thin and ideally transparent communication 
layer between the user (not necessarily restricted to human users) and 
the data and this is where our work has the most impact. To quote Rene 
Descartes (1637) '[As] for logic, its syllogisms and the majority of its 
other precepts are of avail rather in the communication of what we 
already know,[...] than in the investigation of the unknown'. Our 
success will be measured by whether our technologies and methods reduce 
the likelihood of combining data that do not match, by easing the 
retrieval (and publication) of relevant data, and by supporting 
scientists and decision makers in the meaningful (statistical and 
numerical) analysis of data. In contrast (and IMHO), trying to somehow 
fix and precisely, abstractly, and unambiguously define the meaning of 
all sorts of terms in a logical framework, however, is doomed to fail.

What is the 80/20 rule of the Semantic Web? I.e., how much semantics, 
reasoning, and ontologies do we need for 80% gain from semantic 


On 11/11/2015 09:25 AM, Ruben Verborgh wrote:
> Hi Kingsley,
> While your main points are correct, I disagree with your conclusion.
> I guess everything depends on what you mean with "The Semantic Web",
> but if I read the article with that title, we're arguably _not_ there.
> In that sense, I find it strange you use Google as an example of success.
> The fact that the big players are doing something with Linked Data,
> is not necessarily a success, as they have much larger means than most of us.
> For me, the Semantic Web vision has always been about clients.
> It's a democratic principle of publishing and consuming data:
> everyone can say anything about anything,
> but everyone should also be able to consume that data.
> At the moment, consuming seems only within reach of the big players,
> who have the capacity to do it otherwise anyway.
> In what sense did we succeed then?
> To me, The Semantic Web is like Google, but then run on my machine.
> My client that knows my preferences, doesn't share them,
> but uses them the find information on the Web for me.
> I still hope to see that. Then, we might be there.
> Best,
> Ruben

Krzysztof Janowicz

Geography Department, University of California, Santa Barbara
4830 Ellison Hall, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-4060

Email: jano@geog.ucsb.edu
Webpage: http://geog.ucsb.edu/~jano/
Semantic Web Journal: http://www.semantic-web-journal.net
Received on Wednesday, 11 November 2015 18:21:37 UTC

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