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August 26, 2008

Web futures - who ordered the pragmatic semantic organism with fries?

In the first of his Ten Futures (which is an interesting read by the way) Stephen Downes suggests that the Semantic Web will never happen and that we need the Pragmatic Web instead:

Forget about the Semantic Web. Whether or not it ever gets built, you can be sure that we will be complaining about it. Because while the Semantic Web gives us meaning, it doesn’t give us context. It will give us what we can get from an encyclopedia, but not what we can get from phoning up our best buddy.

The pragmatic web, by contrast, is all about context. Your tools know who you are, what you’re doing, who you’ve been talking to, what you know, where you want to go, where you are now, and what the weather is like outside.

Whilst I remain unsure about the likely arrival date of the Semantic Web or indeed whether it will ever arrive at all (in any real terms), and whilst I quite like the Pragmatic Web label, I can't agree with him about the cause.  Success or failure of the Semantic Web does not rest with context - there is plenty of semantic work in that area it seems to me, typically referred to as the graph or the social graph.  As Tim BL said at the end of last year:

Its not the Social Network Sites that are interesting -- it is the Social Network itself. The Social Graph. The way I am connected, not the way my Web pages are connected.

The Semantic Web's problem, if indeed it has one, has to do with complexity and a high cost/benefit ratio.  That said, even given my world view rather than Stephen's, I accept that the 'Pragmatic Web' label still works well as a nice alternative to 'Semantic Web'.

And while I'm on the subject of both the future and the Semantic Web, Kevin Kelly's TED talk, Predicting the next 5,000 days of the web, makes use of a lot of Semantic Web thinking and suggests that the Web of the future is not just going to be today's Web "but only better" but that it will be:

  • smarter,
  • more personalized,
  • more ubiquitous

and the price of that will be more transparency (of us to the Web).  The Web as "an organism" that we interact with.  Hmmm, nice...  I sense a Hollywood blockbuster coming on.

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