Monday, June 11, 2007

imho Ocean Semantic........


I'm not sure if the questions I posed at the end of the previous post (or next one, depending on whether you're reading present to past down from the top, or up, in chronological order, from the bottom) are provocative, or simply stupid: Why doesn't W3C take up defining standards for the Social Semantic Web? And what would those standards be?

Maybe "stupid" is too harsh on my precious self--perhaps "overreaching" is a better word. Why fence the young frontier of the Social Semantic Web by calling for standards prematurely? And why even give this phenomenon a special name all its own, implying that it somehow deserves consideration equal to the OWL-ish Semantic Web stuff being hammered out at W3C? Is there anything truly new going on in all this “folksonomy” and “Web 2.0” stuff that deserves to be considered under the Semantic Web big top?

Universal standards are, of course, the foundation of this thing called the World Wide Web and the SOA universe from which, apparently, the Semantic Web is bursting forth. You’ll recall that I characterized the W3C Semantic Web as the SOA Semantic Web, due to its reliance on the SOA standards (especially the nouveau XML-based Web services standards), while noting that the W3C specs implement some core principles: explicit semantic modeling, controlled semantic vocabularies, and deterministic semantic mediation.

At that point in my analysis, it was a straightforward exercise to point out that some semantics-oriented efforts come down on the opposite ends of each spectrum: implicit semantic modeling, uncontrolled semantic vocabularies, and probabilistic semantic mediation. All of which seems to characterize the chaotic colloquial collaborative linguistic social semantic space we all inhabit on the World Wide Web. Hence, the “Social Semantic Web.”

But doesn’t the very notion of standards call for everything that the Social Semantic Web is not: explicit models of meaning, control over official vocabularies in which meanings are expressed, and clearcut mappings among divergent formulations that express the same underlying meaning? How can standards nail down anything that is inherently implicit, uncontrolled, probabilistic, piggly-wiggly, loosey-goosey…..?

So maybe the notion of standards in this space isn’t feasible. And maybe the notion that we’re actually talking about a new “space” is a tad off the mark. Why give it a new name to imply that something radically new is going on, when--it occurred to me—the whole “Social Semantic Web” is just the good ol’ World Wide Web chugging away at what it’s been doing since the start.

Essentially, the foundation principle of the World Wide Web—and “Web 2.0”--is: any entity can link to, recontextualize, and render commentary on any aggregation of content originated by any other entity anywhere.

That’s what hypertext environments such as the Web are all about. That’s the foundation of HTML, HTTP, URIs, etc. (the most critical standards for the “Social Semantic Web”).

That’s what Web sites and portals do.

Search engines too (human- and/or bot-indexed, based on informal or formal rules that prioritize/classify/contextual all crawlable content with something resembling meaning, relevance, etc.).

Blogs too (on occasion….my “fyi” posts include the link to the kontent on which I’m ostensibly kommenting….my “imho” posts are just me shooting from the hip).

Blogrolls (e.g., hey, if you’ve got nothing better to do browse to these 124 blogs written by people I may have never met or even looked at their posts but they have some general affinity with me hence bolster my claim to being plugged into some cool virtual community that absolutely rules in some virtual sense).

Wikis too (usually….they can also be one entity implicitly commenting on another by totally obliterating that other’s last comment).

Social bookmarking sites for sure (e.g., “digg” these 872 external webpages I like and my sketchy comments and flurry of vague tags explaining why I think they’re individually or collectively worthy of your perusal).

Social networking arenas of all shapes and sizes are cross-commentary cliques par excellence, thick with mutual, sometimes antagonistic, contextualization. Isn't that what a flame war is all about at heart? The nasty side of the Social Semantic Web--the tooth-and-nail fight for heads, hearts, souls, and curly hairs.

Maybe it’s a tad pretentious to refer to this to-and-fro mishmash of chaotic cross-commentary as a “Social Semantic Web,” which implies that something resembling coherent meaning is emerging from the bubbling brew (sometimes it feels more like a Semantic Warp, where you’re more confused coming out than you were going in). To the extent that the Social Semantic Web can precipitate anything of value from the warp, it’s up to each user to navigate the mess, filter the firehose, extract what they find interesting, and synthesize some coherent point to it all. Maybe they’ll lean on their data/text/content mining tools to aggregate, filter, categorize, classify, and render it all for them in pretty pictures that make sense of it all. Or maybe they’ll call for analysts or other smart people who have a knack for standing above the cloud and seeing patterns that others are still having trouble bringing into focus.

Analysts, synthesists, smart people….the pivotal social intermediaries….stitching together the meanings explicit or implicit in any knowledge domain…the key connectors in the human web or any other environment in which individuals must somehow collectively navigate an ocean thick with their own semantic plankton....the world wide warp.

More to come.