Shirky on the Semantic Web

By | 2003/11/07

Here I was, working on a rambling retort to Clay, when Sam nails it;

Two parts brilliance, one part strawman. Pity, actually, as I am sympathetic with the point that Clay is trying to make.

Rest assured, this “problem” isn’t unknown to Semantic Web folk. It’s actually an official TAG issue, goes by the moniker “public meaning”, and has its very own task force to tackle it (and unlike other task forces, they’re actually making progress!).

FWIW, my view (explained partially here) is that although this is another one of those unmaskable problems in distributed systems, that doesn’t mean there’s not a way forward.

Consider the HTTP 404 response code. I see it as a boundary case of the public meaning issue, where ambiguity is maximized due to having no available information from which to infer meaning, leaving public meaning to be determined solely by use, just as with Clay’s “People” example. But did the Web stop working because of 404? Of course not. 404 is a feature, not a bug, as Clay himself observed. The Web works “despite” 404, because there’s public value in not using it, just as there’s public value in being as unambiguous about URI semantics as need be.

Will there be ambiguity on the Semantic Web? Of course. You still get 404s, right?

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