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El.pub Analytic No. 6 The semantic web - will it work?

Page 6

Contents: The problem | Hypertext, SGML and search engines | Mixing tagging and linking | Navigating islands of information | Problem summary | The semantic web: what is it? | what will it do? | what do they say about it? | will it work? | Conclusions


Although the semantic web is a current high profile notion and is generating much discussion we are at a very early stage in defining the concepts needed and realisable systems that will add value.

Research into the more esoteric aspects of the semantic web - ontologies, automatic proof dispensers, etc. - are one with the continuing AI investment in natural language processing and intelligent agents. Don't hold your breath.

If the aim is really to make databases more accessible via the web then perhaps we should start by having more portals that point to databases and simply give them better web based front ends. It is certainly more cost effective to load data into a database than into web pages and it is certainly not beyond the wit of man to devise a graphical query format tied to the conceptual model that defines the database structure. Indeed it is interesting to note that some of the tools being mooted for use in the semantic web (UML for example) are closely related to or part of existing tools for database design. Others such as ORM might be even more useful.

In a way the vision is rather disappointing. We cant solve the original problem - how to use the existing web content effectively - so lets go back to putting it into databases and querying it in SQL (well away from the view of the users). Perhaps a better vision might involve using people more effectively, particularly at the information creation stage. It may be that natural language processing by computers will never be successful, if consciousness turns out to be a necessary ingredient for example. In which case solutions that ultimately depend on success in that enterprise, but in a disguised form, wont work either. Trying to 'fit' people to computer limitations doesn't work.

However it develops, the semantic web should stick to KISS techniques - "keep it simple, stupid". I leave the last word to PaulT [ref 9] writing about some of the complicated tools being suggested:

I'm sure HTML has won only because it was easy to write it by hand in any trivial text editor. Most developers really believe in tools rather than in concepts and ideas. "Let us take a messy concept, and then we'll polish it with some good tools"... it just does not work, I think. A suspicious concept == a suspicious tool. A text editor should be all you need. I think this is the Tao and beauty of computer programming. When looking at RDF, RSS, etc., I hardly see anything that can be maintained with a plain text editor.

Further Reading

  1. http://www.intelligentkm.com/feature/010101/feat1.shtml
    Katherine Adams on automatic classification tools.
  2. http://www.intelligententerprise.com/000908/feat1.shtml
    Dan Sullivan on automated competitive intelligence
  3. http://www9.org/w9cdrom/134/134.html
    German research article on semantic community web portals
  4. http://www-db.stanford.edu/~melnik/pub/sw00/
    research paper on information modelling in relation to XML and the semantic web by Melnik and Deker
  5. http://www.w3.org/2000/01/sw/DevelopmentProposal
    semantic web development proposal from Tim Berners-Lee and associates
  6. http://www.scientificamerican.com/2001/0501issue/0501berners-lee.html
    semantic web article from Scientific American by Berners-Lee, Hendler and Lassila
  7. http://www.semanticweb.org/
    semantic web main web site
  8. http://www.netcrucible.com/semantic.html
    Making a semantic web - article by Joshua Allen of Microsoft
  9. http://www.pault.com/X/981992878/index_html
    discussion between PaulT of XMLsuck and the author of 8. on scalability, the value of plain language and simplicity in relation to the semantic web
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