Why the Semantic Web will fail, NOT.

March 21st, 2007

Slashdot has a post today titled Why the Semantic Web Will Fail that points to a post by Stephen Downes with the same name. His argument is based on the belief that “The Semantic Web will never work because it depends on businesses working together, on them cooperating.” He says:

“But the big problem is they believed everyone would work together:

  • would agree on web standards (hah!)
  • would adopt a common vocabulary (you don’t say)
  • would reliably expose their APIs so anyone could use them (as if)”

While the argument Stephen makes is grounded in his distrust of corporations, his second point above is off the mark, at least for RDF.

One of the features of the W3C’s model (based on RDF) is that it doesn’t push the idea that everyone should adopt the same vocabulary (or ontology) for a topic or domain. Instead it offers a way to publish vocabularies with some semantics, including how terms in one vocabulary relate to terms in another. In addition, the framework makes it trivial to publish data in which you mix vocabularies, making statements about a person, for example, using terms drawn from FOAF, Dublin Core and others.

The RDF approach was designed with interoperability and extensibility in mind, unlike many other approaches. RDF is showing increasing adoption, showing up in products by Oracle, Adobe and Microsoft, for example.

If this approach doesn’t continue to flourish and help realize the envisioned “web of data”, and it might not after all, it will have left some key concepts, tested and explored, on the table for the next push. IMHO, the ’semantic web’ vision — a web of data for machines and their users
– is inevitable.