# Thursday, May 20, 2004

Scott mentions some difficulty he had lately in finding some some information with Google, which brings to my mind the issue (long debated) of the semantic web.  Scott's problem is exactly the kind of thing that RDF was meant to solve when it first came into being, lo these 6-7 years ago. 

Has anyone taken advantage of it?  Not really.  The odd library and art gallery.  Why?  Two main reasons: 1) pure laziness.  It's extra work to tag everything with metadata 2) RDF is nearly impossible to understand.  That's the biggest rub.  RDF, like so many other standards to come out of IETF/W3C is almost incomprehensible to anyone who didn't write the standard.  The whole notion of writing RDF tuples in XML is something that most people just don't get.  I don't really understand how it's supposed to work myself.  And, like with WSDL and other examples, the people who came up with RDF assumed that people would use tools to write the tuples, so they wouldn't have to understand the format.  The problem with that (and with WSDL) is that since noone understands the standard, noone has written any usable tools either. 

The closest that anyone has come to using RDF in any real way is RSS, which has turned out to be so successful because it is accessible.  It's not hard to understand how RSS is supposed to work, which is why it's not really RDF.  So attaching some metadata to blog content has turned out to be not so hard, mostly because most people don't go beyond a simple category, although RSS supports quite a bit more. 

The drawback to RDF is that it was create by and for librarians, not web page authors (most of whom aren't librarians).  Since most of us don't have librarians to mark up our content with RDF for us, it just doesn't get done.  Part of the implicit assumption behind RDF and the semantic web is that authoritative information only comes from institutional sources, who have the resources to deal with semantic metadata.  If blogging has taught us anything, it's that that particular assumption just isn't true.  Most of the useful information on the internet comes from "non-authoritative" sources.  When was the last time you got a useful answer to a tech support problem from a corporate web site?  The tidbit you need to solve your tech support problem is now-a-days more likely to come from a blog or a USENET post than it is from the company who made the product.  And those people don't give a fig for the "semantic web". 

 

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