Web 2.0 a murderer? Hey, peace man!

Web 2.0 has had a tough couple of weeks, since the excitement and prestige of the Web 2.

Web 2.0 has had a tough couple of weeks, since the excitement and prestige of the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. First there was the bubble talk - it's dot com II, look there's Henry Blodget!, deja vu, haven't we learned our lessons?, yada yada. Then there was the Web 2.0 is amoral blustering by old media people, afraid that user-generated content will eat their lunch. Then there was the denunciation of Web 2.0 by Tech figureheads who swear they'll never utter the phrase 'Web 2.0' again in their blogs - begone, Web 2.0 devils!

Well now Web 2.0 is being accused of murder by a Semantic Web fan. Dan Zambonini on O'Reilly XML.com has published a post entitled: Is Web 2.0 killing the Semantic Web? Dan's post makes Web 2.0 out to be superficial and shallow, compared to the deep and meaningful Semantic Web:

"So whilst Web 2.0 is about high-level (user experience) and immediate benefits, the SW is a low-level (data), long-term solution. Users are seeing all this cool, flexible new Web 2.0 stuff, and it's making the SW look even more complex, rigid and unnecessary. Both technologies appear similar to the outside world - share and aggregate data - but Web 2.0 has a pretty interface, and is here and now. And thus the (finite) budgets of organisations are being spent on wikis and blogs, rather than RDF database converters."

Sigh. Now I could once again rush to the defence of Web 2.0, with the zeal that is expected of me as an evangelist. But to be frank, I'm a bit tired of these black and white debates. It's simply not a case of: Semantic Web = Good, Web 2.0 = Bad. Both can (and do!) work together. Take RSS for example. It's actually a fairly semantic technology, when you think about it. Sure it's not RDF, but it's not exactly chopped liver either! As Joshua Porter, my co-author on an upcoming O'Reilly book about Web 2.0, wrote recently in Digital Web Magazine:

"The utility of RSS results from a characteristic of its markup: it is semantic. Defining “semantic” is a fool’s errand—it means “having to do with meaning,” so any theoretical discussion on the matter is difficult.

Practically speaking, however, semantic markup is markup that is descriptive enough to allow us and the machines we program to recognize it and make decisions about it. In other words, markup means something when we can identify it and do useful things with it. In this way, semantic markup becomes more than merely descriptive. It becomes a brilliant mechanism that allows both humans and machines to “understand” the same information."

I completely agree. The point here is that RSS, and a number of other Web 2.0 technologies, are more semantic than it would seem at first glance. They're not just pretty faces, Dan. What's more, there's no reason why Semantic Web technologies can't be utilised in the Web 2.0 world - we like standardised data too. So let's not make this yet another 'us vs them' argument. The Semantic Web and Web 2.0 are complementary.