Gaming the Semantic Web

Opinion: Vendors want to be in the league but won't play by the rules.

Ive created a great new game: You stand at a plate and swing a giant club at a golf ball thats thrown by someone who stands on a mound.

Players in the field (there are 10 of them) have big nets, and if they catch the ball, you are oot (not out). If the ball falls into the field of play, you cartwheel around the three bags on the diamond-shaped field. When you cartwheel across the home bag, you score a run.

Whats this great game called? Baseball.

I know what youre going to say, "Jim, while that game sounds an awful lot like baseball, it clearly isnt baseball. Why dont you just call it Jimmy­CartwheelBall?"

To which Id reply, "Hey, this game is similar in spirit and nature to baseball. And those fuddy-duddies who run baseball are too conservative and hide-bound to their rules. They need to be more flexible and open to innovation, like me."

And most importantly, no one knows what JimmyCartwheelBall is, but everyone knows what baseball is. By calling my game baseball, I get to ride on baseballs popularity.

Come to think of it, this kind of thing happens an awful lot in technology. Often, well see a visionary come up with a new idea that gets much attention and hype. And when the hype gets big enough, many vendors decide to take some of the concepts and strategies behind this cool new idea without sticking to its core principles.

We saw this happen in the last couple of years, when any product that touched the Web was called a Web 2.0 product. And were seeing it now with the Semantic Web, with an increasing number of new products being defined as Semantic Web solutions.

I recently interviewed Tim Berners-Lee, the man who defined all the concepts behind the Semantic Web. Berners-Lee said that for a product to really be a Semantic Web product, it must support key standards such as RDF (Resource Description Framework). To me, this is a pretty cut-and-dried rule, and if anyone has the right to set the rules for the Semantic Web, its Tim Berners-Lee.

/zimages/5/28571.gifTo read more about Tim Berners-Lee and the Semantic Web, click here.

When I talk to companies and developers that are using the Semantic Web label inappropriately on their products, they often get pretty defensive, arguing that Semantic Web standards have been slow to come about and are often too inflexible.

I understand. In general, standards are one of those things that, in the end, dont make anyone happy. But they also tend to prevent anyone from changing the course of a technology or convert it into a proprietary system. Berners-Lee created the Semantic Web, and he and the World Wide Web Consortium get to set the rules. If you dont like those rules, dont tag your product with the Semantic Web label. Because doing so is really just playing games.

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