Saturday, August 05, 2006

Down with buzzwords

Bleeurgh, but I guess it had to happen eventually: some yutz is trying to coin the term Web 3.0 to push their pet futurist vision. Basically it's just a re-hash of the concept of a Semantic Web which was buzzing around a few years back and which Clay Shirky poo-poohed. He criticised the model as being unrepresentative of reality, and criticised people pushing the Semantic Web as being stupefyingly negligent of this. His description of how nearly every framing of an example problem that the Semantic Web was supposed to solve actually obscured the problems with it rather than demonstrated its value: "First, take some well-known problem. Next, misconstrue it so that the hard part is made to seem trivial and the trivial part hard. Finally, congratulate yourself for solving the trivial part."

It holds true for the article on "Web 3.0": "Once machines can understand and use information, using a standard ontology language, the world will never be the same." Yes, the Semantic Web could work wonderfully once a standard ontology language exists, but that's the trivial part. Actually creating that standard is the hard part. And the article treats it as trivial: "However, if we were at some point to take the Wikipedia community and give them the right tools and standards to work with (whether existing or to be developed in the future), which would make it possible for reasonably skilled individuals to help reduce human knowledge to domain-specific ontologies, then that time can be shortened to just a few years, and possibly to as little as two years." Sure. And if an infinite number of monkeys could be provided with an infinite number of typewriters then we'd see every work of writing that could ever be written get written. This is pie-in-the-sky stuff, and simply throwing thousands of wikipedia volunteers at it isn't going to magically create "tools and standards" that have only a theoretical existence at best.

Standard ontology for everything from wikipedia volunteers? I've seen wikipedia volunteers arguing over whether they its's best to use the word "kidnapped", "abducted", or "captured" to describe what Hizbollah did to two Israeli soldiers recently, with no clear concensus reached, and objections raised that at least one of the three was misleading. What standard?

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