Stephen Downes posted on his blog some thesis why the Semantic Web will fail. His main point is
The Semantic Web will never work because it depends on businesses working together, on them cooperating.
But the big problem is they believed everyone would work together:
– would agree on web standards (hah!)
– would adopt a common vocabulary (you don’t say)
– would reliably expose their APIs so anyone could use them (as if)
What’s amazing is thet misconceptions on 1) the technical aspects of the Semantic Web, 2) the lack insight into how businesses work together and 3) the lack of historic insight. In my opinion Stephen Downes could not be more mistaken (some points are taken from the comments in the post)
On the technical side
- First of all W3C RDF does not require that everyone adopts the same vocabulary for a domain. Vocabularies can define semantics on how terms in one vocabulary relate to terms in another.
- RDF makes it trivial to publish data in which you mix vocabularies, making statements about a person, for example, using terms drawn from FOAF, Dublin Core and others
- RDF is showing increasing adoption, showing up in products by Oracle, Adobe and Microsoft, for example.
- RSS, ATOM and iCal are examples for data standards jointly supported by different companies – there’s just no reason to assume that this list cannot grow.
On the business side
- People are looking for incentives to share. Why do you always have to look at the big corporations? Governments (at least in Europe) have self interest in publishing (semantically clear) information to make its own government more efficient and its customers (corporations and people) more competitive. Expect more from them. Small companies have incentive to bring down the bigger ones.
- Businesses do cooperate, when they see it as being in their own interests. In fact commerce can only function when businesses work together at their interfaces. Money is a shared vocabulary with a set of standard protocols. Kendal Clark elaborates on this in a separate post
- Another argument comes from Aditya Pandit where he argues with that the innovation and adoption comes not from the large corporations (The Big Players behave to retain the advantange that they have) but from start-ups (ref. MySpace, YouTube, Yahoo, Google). So looking at adoption by the big players is really incorrect. This should be common knowledge from innovators and startups.
- I think what Downes says is colored by a very skewed “free market”-American (I know he is Canadian) view that the market is best of with competing standards , ref CDMA/GSM, the banking system etc. And let the companies compete freely. As opposed to the European where the governments facilitate in such a way that the companies can compete at a higher level.
- Adoption of standards do take time…
Matt however has a point
I think malware and Wikipedia are really telling examples of why the semantic web won’t work – it’s too easy to muddy the data with deliberately bad information, especially if it’s in people’s financial interests to do so.
But like Tom Briggs commented:
I am also old enough to remember when the Web first came around, corportations didn’t see any purpose in it until a business model was developed that showed them how to profit in that environment.