22 March 2007

Why the Semantic Web will Succeed

Half an Hour: Why the Semantic Web Will Fail

The above link is to an article that gives some basic reasons (according to the author) as to why the semantic web will fail. In summary, his argument is that the semantic web will fail not because of any technology shortcomings, but because businesses will not want to cooperate for reasons of profit, proprietary domain, competition, etc.

This is ridiculous. The first (our current) version of the web works because there is a reasonable stable standard way for people to exhibit information, and for people to retrieve that information. The semantic web is the same thing, only for systems to do the exhibition and retrieval. The first time any company has a number of services that can be accessed by consumers in a system-to-system manner and this shows even an inkling of profit, the corporate world will beat a path to the doorstep of some self-synchronized standard.

This has happened in history - think of the adoption of comon means of trade, the adoption of common formats of record keeping, using standardized banking transfer methods, the adoption of the fax machine, the adoption of supercalc, the adoption of microsoft office as a defacto standard. The adoption of the pdf. In all of these cases, collaboration proved to be more profitable and more valuable than choosing a (perhaps better) different path to the same goal.

Once people saw that there was benefit to producing information in a semi-standardized format (html?), then everyone felt the need to produce their information in such a format. Sure it was bumpy and crunchy fighting through the evolution of the "standard" (and the evolution continues) and there were corporate sticks-in-the-mud that purposefully deviated in order to capture some market advantage, but in the end it is all still pretty much standardized.

Almost any browser can read almost any webpage, and if you have a business case for presenting information, then you are a Fool (notice the capital F) if you rely on a presentation method that locks out part of the audience by not adopting to the defacto standard. Sure, appealing to an elite part of the audience by using a cutting edge method for presenting content is cool and stylish, but you wouldn't want to base a business plan that needs to reach the masses on such an approach.

This same self-synchronization will occur in the system-to-system web world (the semantic web, as envisioned by Sir Tim Berners-Lee). Yeah, it will be rough, and it might take a couple of years to get to such a standard. But if we apply a little perspective here, we are talking about maybe a decade. And then think about what a difference there will be in the world when this starts to take hold. For comparison, think of the difference just a decade made between 1990 (no WWW) and 2000 (ubiquitous WWW).