The Semantic Web’s biggest problem

Paul Miller has a new column at ZDNet that’s all about the Semantic Web — or Web3.0, as some like to call it — and he’s got a post up about an interview he did with the Father of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, in which Sir Tim says that all of the various building blocks required for the Semantic Web to start functioning are there, and all that’s needed is for some people to start putting those blocks together. There’s no question that Sir Tim is right, from a technical point of view. But what’s really missing is magic — something that is going to pull people into it.

Let’s face it — the biggest problem with the Semantic Web is that it’s as boring as dry toast. It’s all about plumbing and widgets and data standards, all of which have names like FOAF and TOTP and SIOC and whatnot. It’s right off the dork-o-meter. The Lone Gunmen from The X-Files would have a hard time getting interested in this stuff, let alone anyone who isn’t married to their slide rule or their pocket protector. The things that the Semantic Web would make possible are fascinating and in some cases very appealing — it’s just getting there that’s the hard part.

A related problem, I would argue, is that not enough people even know what the word “semantic” means. I’m sure lots of people hear the term and either have to go look it up, or are left wondering what the hell people are talking about. And even when you know that the word refers to meaning as represented in language, or knowledge as represented in data, you’re still not much further ahead — it’s meta-data, or meta-knowledge. Not exactly warm and fuzzy, or easy to explain over a beer (or ten).

HTML and Web protocols are pretty boring too, but eventually they were able to do something that made people sit up and notice. What are those things going to be for the Semantic Web? I haven’t got a clue, but I’m glad Sir Tim and others are hard at work on it. For what it’s worth, I had a nice chat last year with the Father of the Web (who told me if someone other than the Queen refers to him as Sir, they have to buy a round of drinks), and we talked about the Semantic Web too.

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