Yes, the Semantic Web does matter, and RDF is a key part of that picture

Paul Miller has a nice new post over at ZDnet, entitled Does the Semantic Web matter? He ultimately concludes ‘yes’, and I agree, but some of the details raised an eyebrow for me.

“Continuing landgrabs by startups that seek to attract, trap and exploit eyeballs stand unashamedly on the shoulders of Semantic Web promise whilst running counter to its basic tenets of linking and openness. On the other hand, companies ‘just’ doing perfectly reasonable – and valuable – things with the meanings of words, phrases and documents latch on to the Semantic Web’s buzz, whilst being all about Semantics and not at all about the Web.”

I have to agree, almost violently, with both these points.

One passage I can’t agree with however is this:

“The speed with which ‘RDF’ or ‘OWL’ enter any conversation about the Semantic Web is worrying; and must ultimately prove self-defeating as potential adopters retreat from a barrage of terminology and an opaque glut of unnecessary detail.”

This may be a fair criticism with regard to OWL, but saying this with regard to RDF is like criticising discussions of the Web in the early 90s for quickly coming down to details of HTML. Yes, we need to focus on what we can do with the technology, but lets not kick back too hard against discussing the technical details.

URIs and the RDF data model are exactly what enables the Semantic Web “proper” to address the issue of linking that Paul rightly criticises many startups for not properly addressing. We can’t hope to understand or predict the emergent properties of a Semantic Web without understanding the fundamental components of that Web, and right now RDF is about as fundamental as the components come.

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