Friday, March 23, 2007

Will the Semantic Web fail? Or not?

(updated Dec. 21, 2007)

A recent post by Stephen Downes has led to quite a few discussion on whether or not the Semantic Web will fail. There are a few supporters, but more opponents.

The center of the debate is on Stephen's premise: the Semantic Web will never work because it depends on businesses working together, on them cooperating. Many Semantic Web researchers decline this assertion by saying that the Semantic Web technologies do not rely on agreements between businesses. This counter-statement is, however, true and false. Certainly, we may say that businesses can develop their own ontologies and store their own data in their own RDF files. In short, they do not have obligations to pre-agree anything. But then the problem is: how would we gain by without agreements? Note that automatic ontology mapping is still a problem that is too hard to be practically solved in the foreseeable future.

I am a Semantic Web researcher and I believe in the future of the Semantic Web. But some of the Stephen's viewpoints are indeed good. Semantic Web is not going to be realized inside the ivory tower. The success of the Semantic Web does not depend on how good our ontology reasoning algorithms have been implemented, or how well our ontology languages have been designed. All of these issues are important, but an even more important one is how we can persuade normal web users starting annotating their own data. Annotated data are the real center of the Semantic Web.

Fortunately, Web 2.0 has already led users to the realm of tagged Web content. This is a realm dreamed by Semantic Web researchers who, however, have never succeeded in bringing the regular Web users to this realm. Now a critical challenge is how we may transfer this Web 2.0 impact into the Semantic Web realm. (Or on its reverse, how the Semantic Web research can be merged into this Web 2.0 phenomenon.) If we could succeed on this challenge, the Semantic Web would be the Web 3.0, 4.0, or x.0. Otherwise, the Web 3.0 might be on another route that starts to run away from this Semantic Web community in the ivory tower. Certainly there will be a web engaged with semantics in the future; but whether it is this Semantic Web that suggested by W3C depends on what Semantic Web researchers are doing at present.

Will this Semantic Web research fail? Or not? If the Semantic Web researchers can be humble enough to admit the shortcomings of the Semantic Web proposal and start to learn from the success of Web 2.0, the Semantic Web will succeed. Otherwise, the Semantic Web will fail because nobody can win a Web battle when they are standing on the opposite side to millions of real-world users because it is these normal users who really decide the future of any Web technologies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Damn right! People will decide, anyway.