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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Paradigm Shift in Semantic Web Deployment

I am a big proponent of all things Semantic. I have a degree in Philosophy, and the Philosophy of Language was what held my interest over the years. Even the idea of Ontologies is something that I have somewhat of an emotional connection to; the relationship and existence of things within the world is partly a semantic question, partly an issue of theism, and partly a great big sticky ball of epistemological wax. The Semantic Web is obviously something that I support, not only because of how it would advance productivity, expand human knowledge, and connect Systems. The main reason I dig it so much is that it could create something truly Good out of the WWW. It would help us make sense of all the data out there, stored in disparate Systems, strewn about intranets, extranets, and the Internet.

I don’t think there are many who would disagree that the Semantic Web *could* and maybe *would* change the world (or at least the way we operate within it, since the world is by it’s very nature ever-changing, right?). There are those who are cautiously optimistic and have laid down the framework that would be required if the Semantic Web is to become a reality. There are those who are ambivalent about data altogether, so long as Dancing With the Stars isn’t affected. There are also those entities, such as Google, who don’t outwardly support a Semantic Web, yet could have a massive effect in it’s becoming a reality and are benefiting from some version of an applied semantic web.

The Semantic Web Deployment


Google is not against the Semantic Web, in that they do not do anything to prevent it’s emergence, but as the Semantic Web would involve quite a paradigm shift, Google is not waving the flag as high as it could. Google has displayed a more pragmatic pessimism, while making a nice living with contextual ads. There are different flavors of semantics. The Semantic Web (with all caps) is a vision of Tim Berners-Lee, and it certainly could be a reality. Google has stated that people are too “incompetent” for it to become a reality, but I think that is a purposely misleading statement on their behalf.

While I do not agree that it is “incompetence” that prevents the average Webmaster from implementing RDF and other Semantic tools, I do think that the web is going to change due to what makes life easier for Webmasters, business owners, and other stakeholders *now*. SilverLight is Microsoft’s new browser plugin, and it was suggested to me earlier this week that instead of web Developers writing HTML to please browsers and to render in FF or IE, they will be writing applications to deploy within plugins such as SilverLight. This is important. If the model changes so that Developers write for applications, there are many implications upon data and upon the WWW - web services and Semantic Web Services included.

It makes sense. Take a look at all the functionality embedded within Visual Studio and try to argue that OOTB tools such as they are have less intrinsic value to the average business owner (with the average IT staff) than the Semantic Web. One has M$ behind it, along with all the immediate value it carries. The other has promises of collaboration and a future where machine agents do intelligent work for us.

I will be frank, although I am sure that what I have to say isn’t going to be that popular: “Web 2.0″ is not all that interesting to businesses outside of advertising. Blogs are online diaries. Social Networking is people talking to people. Yes, these are severe and maybe unfair generalizations, but let’s face it; the people who are using Social Networking the most are not using it for purposes of facilitating business. Sites like Facebook and MySpace are immensely popular, but the folks who make money here are the advertisers and the sites themselves. The sites are akin to toys with massive billboards on the sides of them. This hasn’t been a movement towards a more valuable web, because there is no recognized authority, no Standardized Ontology, no substantive connection throughout. Work flows exist independent of Standards, and communication happens in proprietary space.
Even Second Life with it’s Linden Dollars is dependant upon Visa, MasterCard, or some real entity with standards, insurance, true grounding and defined components to support it.

Web 2.0 has not done a heck of a lot for business, itself. Google itself enjoyed “viral” popularity. Developers were using it before anyone. Kids were using Social Networking before LinkedIn was popular. Businesspeople are generally too busy to be futzing around with the “cool stuff” online. They spend their time with the “productive stuff” and now find that some of the cool stuff can be productive, if you planned ahead and positioned yourself correctly. Google plays very well towards the convenience factor. Have you seen Google Street View yet? It is COOL. Will it make the world a better place? I doubt it. Will it make Google more popular? You can bet on it.

Meanwhile, business is being done on the web. Content Management Systems and Portals such as Joomla and Sharepoint will enable business. They have tremendous value to the business owner. They allow for Social Networking, collaboration, information sharing, but also have ecommerce capabilities (.NETcart and others) and help folks make money. They contain work flow management tools, to help folks run their businesses. They don’t have an immediate “wow” factor like Google Street View, but I sure think they are cool.

Microsoft is Google’s obvious competitor for mastery of the Globe’s data. The Sharepoint Server 2007 platform is Microsoft’s newest offering. It is amazing. It can do amazing things. However, because it is so dynamic and renders so much on the fly MOSS is not totally Standards-compliant. This is a big deal. This says, “our tool is so good that Standards will just have to forgive us…”
Standards must be preserved, however. And Microsoft would be wise to obviate a way to implement RDF or Semantic technologies.

Web Developers and Architects have a variety of landscapes that they can paint. They can paint an Open Source landscape, where the edges are a little fuzzy but the population is enthusiastic and there are no secrets. They can paint a Microsoft or other proprietary landscape where things are very well defined, but expensive. They can act based on what they know in either one of these cases, drawing on .NET or PHP experience and deploy. They can deploy something that works for business, or something that works for Business. Either way, they are not wrong.

Or Web Developers and Architects can look ahead towards things they do *not* know. It is true; many Webmasters don’t know HTML, much less how to wrap their data in RDF. There is little out there to entice them to do so. What the Semantic Web needs is endorsement - not in theory, but in practice. If either the Open Source community or Microsoft were to build Semantic Tools into their suites, it would be a heck of a lot easier for the Semantic Web to form. It needs that first stake in the ground.

With Google moving as ominously as they are, it would appear to me that Microsoft would want to consider embracing W3C standards and building Semantic Web tools into SilverLight, MOSS, .NET while Google indexes and makes available Google Documents and other immediately free tools. Google is throwing a heck of a lot of free stuff out there, while owning it all. I do not want my WWW to be as Google dictates. I want it to work for me, for you, and for You. Google is a business. They provide a service. They also make some people very wealthy. I do not want the WWW to turn into a de facto proprietary landscape. That would not be good.

Ironically, I think the way to avoid this may be to get THE proprietary system - Microsoft - to build in Semantic Tools and take the control of data away from the indexing machines.
And let’s face it; data is not just bits, bytes, and text. It is meaningful.

Maybe it isn’t quite as it seems Andrew Layman worked on the original RDF spec, and he is a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft. It would make sense to me that they were doing, behind the scenes, what Google is doing right in our faces - planning to run the WWW.

As soon as we see SilverLight contain RDF tools, I will smile a little inside. People will be writing applications instead of HTML pages, and the applications will be a much better platform for schemas, Ontologies, and Semantics than a layer imposed onto HTML.

Google already bought Applied Semantics - natural fodder for their AdSense platform, and can do very obvious things with context. I don’t like the way it is all unfolding. And forgive me, but I can’t put my finger on exactly why that is. Maybe I have the feeling that people are playing dumb.

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