Social Meaning and the Cult of Tim
is an interesting discussion of some of the internal tensions among the
many bright people at the W3C who are dreaming up the Semantic Web. It
seems that, as it often happens in ambitious projects such as this,
there is a cultural split between the "thinkers" and "the builders";
the leader seems to belong to the latter camp, and a key question is
how much he can/should be criticized publicly by members of the former.
I'm sure lots of people are learning a lot about politics in the
The debate about social meaning is in some ways a
debate between at least two distinct kinds of computer professional:
the software engineers (who make a legitimate claim to have built
the Web in the first place) and the knowledge representation
theorists (who make a legitimate claim to have built many knowledge
representation systems of a kind analogous to the one which the
Semantic Web is meant to become.)
Not only do these groups have
different methods, backgrounds, and modes of argument and
discourse, but they also have divergent expectations and standards
about formalisms, formal systems, and the like.
[...] One obvious point to make is that there are a lot of people trying
to help Berners-Lee realize his intuited vision and that he wields
more influence and authority over this complex process than any
other single person. Perhaps that is perfectly
appropriate. However, the problem arises when other people, who have
less moral authority, disagree with Berners-Lee. I have heard it
said several times, although few people seem willing to commit to
this view publicly, that Berners-Lee should be exempt from
public criticism because the realizability of the Semantic Web
rests upon Berners-Lee's reputation more than upon any other single
[...] Too many W3C groupies, hangers-on,
associates, employees, and peripheral figures act as if
Berners-Lee's "vision" is infallible or incorrigible. I have heard
W3C people react harshly to criticism of Berners-Lee on precisely
these terms. "After all", they suggest, "he did invent the
Web". Playing on that bit of institutional lore aforementioned, the
idea seems to be that "Tim did it once, only Tim can do it again".
If the success of the Semantic Web does indeed critically depend on a
single man's reputation, I think that is very bad news for the Semantic
Two bloggers that generate interesting comments from their readers are Don Park and Robert Scoble. But to track comments on their weblogs, I need to bookmark the post in my weblog browser (ie I have to go outside
my RSS Aggregator), and periodically click "Refresh" on that webpage to
see if any new comments have been written. This is a big time waster
for me. Wouldn't it be great if I could simply subscribe to an RSS feed
of that post's comments? For example when I click on the "Comments" URL
and view the comments, I'd love to see a simple "Subscribe to these comments"
button that generates an RSS file. Then I could add that to my RSS
Aggregator and bob's my uncle - all the comments from that weblog post
would automatically be streamed to me. Weblog authoring tools vendors - consider this a feature request ;-)
Come on now, that doesn't seem that hard to do... Boingboing is almost there, as each post's discussion page features a prominent "Subscribe" button - the only problem being that it is an email subscription link. While the RSS
bigot in me is exclaiming "Email!? email's dead, baby! That was so 20th
century!", I can't help but recall that the user base for email is
still much, much larger than for RSS, so I understand.
But I won't
voluntarily pile on top of an overloaded inbox. And since I don't have
time to manage a database of bookmarked discussions, I'll have to be
content with letting a few interesting comments slide through.
There's been increasing activity in the last half-year or so around the theme of structured/semantic blogging. Phil offers a very insightful post here, concisely capturing the motivation for getting this stuff up and running:
What's a structure-enhanced blog item?
Packages of structured data are becoming post components.
The virtue of blogs has been their simplicity. Each post only needs one field, and maybe a title and url.
Not everyone is served well by this lowest common denominator. Sometimes you have a burning need for more structure, at least some of the time.
When you know a subject deeply, and your observations or analysis recur, you may be best served by filling in a form. The form will have its own metadata and its own data model.
Phil includes a link to the intriguing qlogger service, which I had not seen before. Qlogger already offers a number of structured blogging options (sexlogging being one of them - "Ah sex. You've gotta love it. Keep track of it with this log". Great, now you'll be thinking about blogging all the time.). And the still mysterious Lafayette project is apparently aiming at the same honeypot of distributed, collaboratively built databases.
Best of all, Phil gives a plausible scenario in which several different structured blogpost formats gradually spread across the net through autodiscovery. Future blogging tools may well allow us to manage a personalized set of formats that we can easily choose from with each new post. Ordinary, amorphous posts will remain the default for freeform content that doesn't fit a template.
I think this is spot on. My own thinking efforts in that direction can be found in the piece "Towards structured blogging"; Alf Eaton's neat Blaxm! reviews exchange brings some of those ideas into concrete form. What do you think?  links to this post 2:34:58 PM
"The real achievement of OWL, then, at least as I see it, is to provide
a solid foundation, both formally and implementationally, for the
Semantic Web. It satisfies one of the necessary conditions of the
possibility of there being a Semantic Web at all."
Halavaisís Corollary: "The value of a networked service is inversely proportionate to its cost."
Cost to end users, that is. Alex came up with this in the context of a
discussion of anti-spam measures, but it obviously applies in lots of