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Semantic Web a Bust

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By David Perera March 21, 2007

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Will the Semantic Web, which will allow applications to share personal data, ever be real? According to blogger Stephen Downes, it won’t.

The Semantic Web has supposedly been the next big Internet thing for a few years now, but mostly it’s been notable for its lack of adoption. (Here's an early article on it co-authored by Tim Berners-Lee.) More than a few dedicated govvies in the Semantic Interoperability Community of Practice (SICoP) are trying to make it happen too. But the idea will never make it in the real world, says Downes, who works at the National Research Council's Institute for Information Technology in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. Downes specializes in online learning, content syndication and new media, according to his web site.

To understand what the Semantic Web can do, consider this example from Berners-Lee's article:

The entertainment system was belting out the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" when the phone rang. When Pete answered, his phone turned the sound down by sending a message to all the other local devices that had a volume control.

The system was smart enough to realize that listening to loud music and talking on the phone are incompatible, so it adjusted things accordingly.

That cooperation is its fatal flaw, Downes says. “The Semantic Web will never work because it depends on businesses working together:"

... [T]he 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)."

We'd like to hear from Semantic Web supporters in government or industry why Downes may be mistaken about the future of this new technology. Please use the comments link below.

(Hat tip: Slashdot)

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