Reactions to "Let a million data structures bloom..."

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 13 September 2010

There has been plenty of reaction my "Let a million data structures bloom" post last week, which was sparked by Tom Coates and his "Death to the semantic web" slide at dConstruct the other week.

Tom himself left a comment on the blog:

"I think the point that I was trying to make above all others was precisely what you've written above - I have no problem with Semantic Web technologies if people want to use them - I'm in favour of a Web of Data by any means necessary. What I think is wrong is the full aspirational goal of the Semantic Web or Giant Global Graph that TBL is advocating, and particularly the W3Cs attempts to make any future 'web of data' one that is true to the Semantic Web. I think that the Semantic Web rhetoric colonises any attempts to talk about a connected web of data and services, and I think that's a genuinely bad thing. We need a more humble idea of the Semantic Web, as one of a competing range of technologies and ideas that are all being explored in order to reach a goal that is larger than any one set of technologies of ideologies."

Another thread emerged on Twitter where, following my post, Georgi Kobilarov observed:

"Interesting that #linkeddata became 'top-down'. If #linkeddata feels top-down to people, then it is top-down, whether or not we see it as bottom-up."

Whilst I absolutely think that the Linked Data ecosphere has been built in a 'small pieces loosely joined' way, and not according to some grand masterplan, whether something appears to be 'top-down' or not depends very much where you are in the publishing chain. If I'm telling journalists and news organisations that they ought to code up things with a certain linked data ID because it is good for them, then it feels like I'm being top-down and prescriptive about it, even if the whole thing has been built from the grass roots up.

Finally, the other bombshell at dConstruct was Ryan Carson and his 'UX is bullshit' vibe. One of the best responses was Scott Berkun's, where he said that:

"1. Some people are very sensitive about job titles.

2. People in the UX/design/etc world might win the prize for most sensitive."

Actually, maybe people in the semantic web may well be able to claim the prize of being most sensitive about labels. In the comments on my post, Jeff Sayre linked to his article: "The Semantics of the Semantic Web: Don't Confuse the Concept with the Movement", which tries to draw clear distinctions between several different terms that might be applied to adding lots of machine readable metadata to content.

Me, I'm totally agnostic about the terms and the technology.

Linked data, open data, semantic web, RDFa, Microformats, SPARQL, restful APIs or carrier pigeons with QR codes attached to their feet, I don't care. I'm just interested in building data-based services that people find useful, and which they love using.

You can listen to Tom's excellent talk, and all the presentations at dConstruct, on their podcast page, and you can download a PDF of the original slides.

1 Comment

Martin -

Thanks for the link to my article. Your point about some SemWeb people being sensitive about what they call the Web of Data is spot on--and that was exactly my point. As I stated in my article, "When I use the phrase Semantic Web I use it in the broadest sense of the concept...I do not use it to plant my flag in one camp, to pledge my allegiance to one set of technologies, to cozy up to one particular movement."

People are getting confused by the competing camps, by the competing technological solutions to linking data on the Web. The end goal is what matters to most people, not how it is achieved. The virtues of competing and complimentary technologies should be debated. But the debates have leaked out into the greater Web, confusing too many. That is why I challenged the SemWeb / LinkedData / Web of Data people to rebrand their efforts under a new, cohesive umbrella. The brand name does not matter as much as the message of the overall benefits of linking data across the Web.

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