I've really enjoyed the recent flow of posts between Talis Platform Advisory Group member Nova Spivack and (not yet a member!) Tim O'Reilly. Through them it's possible to see some of the complex interrelationships between aspects of 'Web 2.0' and the more pragmatic areas of 'Semantic Web' development. 'Web 3.0' occasionally makes an appearance, confuses things, and gets pushed down the pile in order that a more sensible dialogue can take place.
Except, perhaps, in Nova's use of it to describe the third decade of the Web, 'Web 3.0' does seem to currently be causing little more than confusion; which is surely exactly the opposite of what a loose label such as that should be for? Despite that, it - or a term like it - will be needed as the media and others struggle to describe the transitional phase that we're entering as the exuberant outpourings of the early Web 2.0 days bed down into sustainable and longer-term activity. We can either craft these labels ourselves and use them to tell our stories, or we can have them created for us with language that will (doubtless) pit the new thingummy against the 'old' Web 2.0 in ways that are unhelpful. For want of a better term, many of us do seem to fall back upon 'Web 3.0' to describe something else, but I'm not sure that any of us actually like the term. 'Web of Data'? Maybe. 'Web of Intentions'? Possibly... and I'll begin to dig into why in an upcoming series of posts. 'Semantic Web'? No, probably not. It's far too bound up in the totality of Tim Berners-Lee's vision; something that we see small parts of in various labs around the world, but something that is an extremely long way from the mainstream web of today or tomorrow. Parts of the Semantic Web ideal figure extremely highly, but it may be unwise to shoot them in the foot by bogging discussion of them down in all that ontological big system stuff that seems to accompany any mention of the big SW.
Robust, pragmatic, and Web-scale deployment of the technologies and ideas of the Semantic Web is not a replacement for Web 2.0. It is an evolution, a change of emphasis and approach. It is the realisation of many of Web 2.0's under-delivered promises, and a powerful step forwards for incumbents and new entrants. The opening up (legally, technically, and practically) of the data that drives the current social web is the big story. The particular W3C recommendations that make it possible are a means to an end.
As Nova comments;
“The Semantic Web is not about AI or anything fancy like that, it is really just about data. Another and perhaps better name for it would be 'The Data Web.'”
Nova also remarks;
“I agree with Tim that the Web 2.0 era was a renaissance -- and that there were certain trends and patterns that I think Tim recognized first, and that he has explained better, than just about anyone else. Tim helped the world to see what Web 2.0 was really about -- collective intelligence.”
Absolutely. And it is here that the opportunity lies in taking a huge step forward. We're seeing plenty of interesting examples in which silos of reasonably collective reasonably intelligent data are growing and being mined.
The opportunities are so much greater with an open pool of data, to which context, role and reason can be applied, and it is here that semantic technologies such as RDF have so much to offer.
Nova goes on to say;
“The fact is, while I have great respect for Tim as a thinker, I don't think he truly 'gets' the Semantic Web yet. In fact, he consistently misses the real point of where these technologies add value, and instead gets stuck on edge-cases (like artificial intelligence) that all of us who are really working on these technologies actually don't think about at all. We don't care about reasoning or artificial intelligence, we care about OPEN DATA.
From what I can see, Tim thinks the Semantic Web is some kind of artificial intelligence system. If that is the case, he's completely missing the point. Yes, of course it enables better, smarter applications. But it's fundamentally NOT about AI and it never was. It's about OPEN DATA. The Semantic Web should be renamed to simply The Data Web.”
I know for a fact that Tim 'gets' - and passionately believes in - Open Data. I've seen him talk compellingly on the subject, and read his thoughts online more than once.
It does seem, though, that he's not yet making the connection between the power and importance of Open Data and the importance of the open web of data that a move from the siloed databases of today's best Web applications to a distributed network of flexible and actionable RDF data.
Getting the data out there (with appropriate licenses to encourage use and reuse, of course) is only part of the job. The networks of association, inference, context and more make the sum of the parts worth far more than the individual records or databases... and this doesn't require (despite fears to the contrary) any wholesale adoption of inflexible ontologies or the widespread crafting of RDF.
Now I really must finish the set of posts in which I hope to show more clearly how web-scale and sustainable deployment of Semantic Technologies promises to enrich (not replace) the vibrant ecosystem that Tim has so eloquently captured in his descriptions of Web 2.0.