Clay Shirky spent 3600 words debunking the ‘future of the Semantic Web’ as an artificial intelligence utopia. I guess I should expect this kind of thing from Shirky, who’s probably prone to fully stating his case ad infinitum just to get you to agree with him. [That’s a trait of academes; it is neither right nor wrong, but simply is, as my father is wont to say.]
You know, early on in searching around on this stuff about this Semantic Web thing&emdash;which I first ran across when realizing that I was behind the curve on Web design&emdash;I ran across a document, Cory Doctorow’s “Metacrap”, that silenced the issue for me.
It shouldn’t really surprise me that there are idealists that dream of a Semantic Web future. In any great trend, there are idealists of all sorts who push doing the right thing for simply outrageous reasons&emdash;but there reasons are just plausible enough that, if you ignore the fact that their foundations are built upon sand, you can smile and nod and say, “Yeah, I want to be a part of that.”
That’s not bad in and of itself, but when a smart guy like Mark Pilgrim slams metacrap some sixteen-plus months after Doctorow, well, I begin to wonder if the idealists have lost their minds just a wee bit.
[There is a slight pause while I consider that many of these idealists love a technocratic, finger-to-the-wind politician named Howard Dean. :chuckle: I’m not a Confederate-flag-flying redneck, but I do live in the South and own a truck. Of course, as a practicing aerospace engineer, I’m outside of the demographic Dean was seeking. But, I digress. This is about the Web, and Dean is only using the Web for his own political ends, much as Jesse Ventura used college kids to become governor of Minnesota and then maintained the status quo antebellum governing practices that hardly increased fundage for those college kids’ schools. :snicker:]
Is the Semantic Web an ideal? Certainly. Shirky writes, “This example sets the pattern for descriptions of the Semantic Web. First, take some well-known problem. Next, misconstrue it so that the hard part is made to seem trivial and the trivial part hard. Finally, congratulate yourself for solving the trivial part.” The man is right, but that doesn’t mean that metadata is a horrible thing.
IF the market ever pushes it, you’ll see metadata well and truly go commercial. This won’t happen for one-to-one economics; it’ll still be for one-to-many economics. Only a large enterprise could really push metadata in a commercial market. [Those programmers don’t work for free.] Some might argue that Amazon is pushing it there, and maybe they are. Time will tell.
But, much like going to the moon, I think that you push for metadata just because you can. Now, one might wonder why I used the moon analogy [rather than the more ubiquitous climbing-the-mountain one]. It’s not just a desire to remind you that, yes, I am a frickin’ rocket scientist … it’s also an acknowledgement that chasing ideals leads to positive, unintended consequences. The tools you need to accomplish huge ideals teach you lots of things that you didn’t know, mainly because you have to be creative to overcome seemingly looming obstacles. Anytime creativity is spurred, good things eventually fall out.
There will be some worth to all of this metacrap. It’s just preposterous to think that we know what it is here towards the end of 2003, and frankly, if we know its worth in 2008, I’ll be surprised.