Home The Fate of the Semantic Web

The Fate of the Semantic Web

This month, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released a study on the semantic Web. The Web will get smarter. It will become more useful. But will the “semantic Web” become the reality that many envision?

Lee Rainie of Pew and Janna Quitney Anderson of Elon University’s Imagining the Internet project asked 895 experts to “predict the likely progress toward achieving the goals of the semantic web by the year 2020.”

Some 47% agreed with the statement: “By 2020, the semantic web envisioned by Tim Berners?Lee will not be as fully effective as its creators hoped and average users will not have noticed much of a difference.”

Some 41% agreed with the opposite statement, which posited: “By 2020, the semantic web envisioned by Tim Berners?Lee and his allies will have been achieved to a significant degree and have clearly made a difference to average internet


Among the more interesting results to me is how “critics noted that human uses of language are often illogical, playfully misleading, false or nefarious, thus human semantics can never be made comprehensible to machines.”

How much of the “tedium” of, well, human understanding, can machines take away? How much would we want them to? I’m not alone in asking this. Two gentlemen with appreciably more confidence have addressed the question: Cory Doctorow and Clay Shirky. The latter said the semantic Web “requires too much coordination and too much energy to effect in the real world, where deductive logic is less effective and shared worldview is harder to create than we often want to admit.”

On the other side of the semantic aisle is Bryan Trogdon, president of The Semantic Group, who declared that “within the next 10 years, the semantic web will take us from the age of information to the age of knowledge. Simple tools and services will allow individuals, corporations and governments to quickly glean meaning from the vast amounts of data they have compiled.”

O brave new world! That has such self-organizing data in’t!

The lists of respondents, pro and con, are extremely readable, though a reader will probably find one table-slappingly accurate and the other either a seaweed dance of credulous dreaminess or a dramatic monologue of surly nay-saying. (In other words, it’s super fun.)

Hence loathed melancholy… Hence vain deluding joyes…

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