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Microformats, Web 3.0, etc.

I came across this blog entry and as much as I don't want to take part in the "Web 3.0" debate I want to clarify the following:

  1. The so-called "lowercase semantic web" represents a misunderstanding of what's important about the Semantic Web, namely the requirements for a uniform metamodel for data that allows schemata to be extended, and accessible, declarative semantics. Microformats fail in both respects. In some sense, I would compare microformats to the old biblical tale of the "Tower of Babble" (Genesis 11:1-9): each microformat is its own little vocabulary, and the more we have those, the more code we have to write (the same comparison, btw, also applies to Web Services... 1). In fact, we have to write more "interpretive" code for every new microformat introduced, and given that there is no extensibility we have to introduce a new microformat every time we want new features. Hence I would not call the lowercase variant a "Semantic Web" at all.

  2. Reading the aforementioned blog entry, I feel it misunderstands the Semantic Web wrt. the term "Strong AI" (or perhaps misunderstands what Strong AI actually is). This misunderstanding may come from the first sentence of the definition of the term "Strong AI" in Wikipedia which claims that Strong AI is the belief that "some forms of AI can truly reason and solve problems". This is wrong: almost all AI is about reasoning and solving problems; what Strong AI is is the philosophical belief that ultimately AI can match and surpass human intelligence ("Weak AI", on the other hand, treats AI as a field of computer science, with AI techniques as useful additions to the computer scientists arsenal of techniques that can be used when building software). If the Semantic Web is about AI (and some of it definitely is), it is about Weak AI - even the original SciAm article does not make claims about Strong AI.

1 Ora Lassila: Serendipitous Interoperability. In Eero Hyvönen, editor, The Semantic Web Kick-off in Finland – Vision, Technologies, Research, and Applications, HIIT Publications 2002-001. University of Helsinki, 2002.

Posted by ora at 00:13


I wrote something similar, at the bottom of ( http://communitywiki.org/SemanticWeb ) --

The Major Virtue of the Semantic Web: Networked Data.

The Minor Virtue: Reasoners.

The 3 Vices: Triples, RDF/XML, and Misrepresentation.

Misrepresentations such as: "The semantic web is valuable because data will automatically merge together." People take conclusions that are not intended.

Posted by: Lion Kimbro at November 16, 2006 03:48 PM

I agree that "connected" data is a big deal, but I am not sure I agree with the three vices (perhaps because I was involved with coming up with those). RDF/XML is the outcome of long and bitter "syntax wars", it wasn't necessarily what we in our ideal world would have wanted, but as far as I am concerned it is something that works now and we have bigger problems.

I really like automatic reasoning, and automating the integration of data. I now consider this something I want to devote most of my research into.

Posted by: Ora Lassila at November 18, 2006 06:00 AM

I'm not sure that the microformats community ("the so called lowercase semantic web") so much "represents a misunderstanding of what's important about the Semantic Web", as a belief that there is a lot of value in the web as it is, rather than the web as it may one day be.

Microformats don't compete with the Big S semantic web, because their ambitions are much much more limited. To the extent they impact on one another at all, I feel that microformats, and the little s web breaks essential ground for the big S web - without (many many) developers familiar with the ideas of rich semantic markup, something which microformats is definitely doing, then gettign developers to build the big S web is going to be a very hard sell.


Posted by: John Allsopp at December 16, 2006 11:37 PM