Interview with Marco Neumann: "It's definitely an exciting time to be on the Semantic Web!"
Marco Neumann is an Information Scientist and CEO of KONA a consulting and technology service company based in New York City. The Semantic Web activist is an invited expert to the W3C HTML 5 working group. He recently started a discussion on the challenges and difficulties in bringing the Semantic Web into business. SWC asked him for some additional comments.
Marco, you recently initiated a discussion in a Google Group on the difficulty to change Semantic Web standards. What was the background of the discussion? Where do you perceive a need for action?
It’s not so much about changing this existing standards but the challenge to bring them into the world of practitioners and standards developers. The language used in W3C recommendations quite frequently requires advanced topic knowledge and familiarity with the jargon of the discussion about the respective technologies. I recently discussed this with a senior standards maven at the W3C and got the answer that the recommendations can’t be changed retrospectively and that they are intended to be used primarily by vendors for implementation purposes.
Well this might be the case but I also got the impression that Tim Berners-Lee objective for the W3C is primarily to meet the needs of a larger community. And the W3C took this into account for most of the Semantic Web recommendations in the past. Something I still find amazing is the fact that the work process at the W3C is partially and the recommendations are entirely publicly accessible. Though we definitely still need more and better tools to work with semantic web data, higher quality documentation and last but not least more user adoption on the web.
Critics of the Semantic Web often refer to the slow uptake of Semantic Web standards by industry. Is standards adoption actually a valid and sufficient metric to evaluate the maturity of a standard? What would be needed to accelerate the uptake?
I think we might see a similar scenario to the uptake of HTML in the early 90s, a relatively small number of technology mavens will pave the way towards making the Semantic Web more attractive as a technology solution for a wide range of applications and will successfully publish open data before we see business application developers make use of Semantic Web standards.
The availability of trustable and quality approved RDF data is crucial for the success of the Semantic Web. Given the fact that the aggregation business on the WWW is highly concentrated the corresponding formula is simple: If Google just consumes but does not give back RDF the Semantic Web won’t scale. Do you agree?
Yes and no. Yes we need better and more semantic data on the Web, but we will also need better ways to deal with trust in a lightweight and web friendly fashion. I currently see a number of semi automated approaches emerging that could scale on the web. An example are distributed user based recommendation systems to validate authenticity, open Wikipedia style community evaluation and content curation a la freebase. Increased public accountability for data producers might be an interesting venue as well. In regards to Google I’d say web search engines will go where the web goes. A problem I might see arising is that web search engines will initially develop their own standards to deal with the emerging Semantic Web and confuse users on the web or might pursue a time consuming power play with the W3C. I see a little bit of that in the current discussion in the HTML 5 working group.
As we know from social sciences technological standards are necessary but always incomplete and unsatisfactory. From a standards design and outreach perspective: What would it need to make the Semantic Web flourish?
I’m not sure if we really know all that much about the laws of innovation and the evolution of technology standards at this point. If we draw from the short experience with the World Wide Web I would come to the conclusion that innovation takes place in small to medium size teams that pursue an independent vision of how services should be delivered and how the technology should be designed. In addition Tim Berners-Lee’s encourages the production of lots and lots of data to bootstrap the Semantic Web and create a pull for services in the industry. And indeed we really see some traction for example with the Linked Open Data and Open Government initiatives. It’s definitely an exciting time to be on the Semantic Web!
About Marco Neumann
Marco Neumann is an Information Scientist and CEO of KONA a consulting and technology service company based in New York City. KONA provides semantic technologies to businesses solutions and adds value to products and services in a highly networked economy. In addition Marco currently acts as an Invited Expert to the W3C on the HTML 5 working group and is the director of the global semantic social network lotico.com.