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Re: [ontolog-forum] Semantic Web shortcomings [was Re: ANN: GoodRelation

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Len Yabloko" <lenya@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 13 Aug 2008 14:45:50 +0000
Message-id: <W3719616882292021218638750@webmail7>
Michael,     (01)

Thank you for your comments. It is good to get a fresh prospective from Silicon 
Valley to contrast the intellectual focus of this forum.    (02)

Like you I am a software engineer. However, unlike you I do not see a problem  
the way you do - as software engineering problem. Semantic Web initiative is 
not about improving Web technologies May be the name is confusing, but the main 
part of is "Semantic" - not "Web".    (03)

Moreover, the Web does not represent all information technologies, nor is it a  
melting pot for all software development. It is more like its bubbling surface. 
Yes, it is deeply pragmatic in "street" sense, but not as an institution. And 
yes, diversity and flexibility was beneficial throughout the history of 
technology, but so was governance.    (04)

Finally, the rosy picture of today's Web as you have painted it - does not seem 
that way for me (may be because I am not from Silicon Valley :-). Yes, you can 
build the application in two hours or less, but such proliferation does not 
bring a long-term solution to basic problem of information overload. In fact, - 
it contributes to it.     (05)

>Dear John et al.,
>As a long time passive casual reader of this list and having even
>participated in some ONTOLOG sessions in the past (circa 2005), I
>first want to say that I always appreciate your posts.  They are
>always clear and full of wisdom.
>I found this one to be particular thoughtful, pragmatic, and to the
>point.  Like you, I too am also of the opinion that the Semantic Web
>community has made a series of mistakes at the architecture, design,
>and implementation as well as business level, which are likely to
>prevent it (and associated technologies) from ever going mainstream on
>the Web.
>As a new researcher and observer of what goes on related to the Web in
>Silicon Valley, I was quickly brought down to earth in 2004 when I
>tried to sell and show early efforts and research in Semantic Web.
>Upon a deeper (though casual) analysis of the reality in the valley
>and going back to my software engineering roots, I came to the
>realization, like you, that Semantic Web technologies and artifacts
>are simply not meshing well with Web technologies.  However, unlike
>your excellent DB-focused analysis, mine was around Software
>Engineering and in particular the lack of agility in Semantic Web
>tools and technologies.
>Web developers want quick and malleable results that they can quickly
>show to their stakeholders.  The reason is simply that with the
>Internet, software cycles are shorter and shorter.  To stay in
>business, companies and developers must show completely working
>systems soon, otherwise clients move on.  Agility is paramount.
>Frameworks like Ruby on Rails, PHP/Zend, and Python/Django have gained
>wide acceptance and popularity in recent months (past 36 months or so)
>primarily due to their uncanny ability to get you up and running on
>the Web in a matter of hours, not days.  You simply need an idea, a
>relational database, and a server, and a few hours of programming.
>Indeed many of the mushrooming Facebook applications and other hot Web
>2.0 and 2.x applications are now done in these frameworks over
>weekends here in the valley...  With cloud computing, the database and
>the servers requirements are themselves becoming commodities that you
>can pay for by the hour---only increasing the pressures to have quick
>and agile development.
>Semantic Web, and various aspects of initial versions of Web services
>for that matter, required heavy tooling or 'big up front designs"
>which are antithesis to the core virtues of the Web.  That with the
>fact that they mostly ignored the staying power and value of the
>relational data model, made them unknown and heavy to developers.  The
>return on such huge up front investment to use Semantic Web tools is
>simply too big to justify the minimal returns...
>Additionally, in my opinion, the Achilles heels of the Semantic Web
>was maybe the fact the designers seemingly ignored one of the reasons
>of the Web's success.  The simple fact fact that with minimal
>protocols (HTTP and few others) and few up front agreements (HTML and
>others) the Web allowed anyone, anywhere to publish and create
>applications...  Yes that leads to a plethora of duplicated data and
>semantics, but that's fine as, in the end, it also follows how humans
>naturally do things.
>Human civilizations has seen various repeated technologies and tools
>over centuries.  The Chinese initially invented many technologies that
>the west re-invented later on...  and now, vice a versa.  Why would a
>wold-wide web be any different?  If as humans we liked having one
>meaning and representation for domains, we would all speak English,
>Spanish, or Chinese.  We don't and in many way this is a great thing
>with lots of benefits, while also creating various drawbacks.
>Now, this is not to say that the Web is perfect and that efforts to
>add semantics or making the Web more secure are not needed.  It simply
>is a reminder that any mainstream changes on the Web needs to mesh
>with the core values and design choices that have made the Web a
>success.  It's no wonder that REST has surpassed SOAP/WSDL for making
>the Web programmable.  REST meshes perfectly with the Web's
>architecture; SOAP in many ways, simply does not...
>Ajith Ranabahu (PhD student at Wright State University) and I have a
>short paper that summarizes some of this thinking that we presented
>last year at ICSC (http://icsc2007.eecs.uci.edu/).  You can find a PDF
>here for your perusal:
>All in all, I think it's great that every now and then we are able to
>be pragmatic about things and realize our mistakes.  I believe that
>this shows strength, confidence, and maturity.  I believe many aspects
>and promises from Semantic Web technologies need a bit of that
>pragmatic reminder...
>Sincerely yours,
>E. Michael Maximilien (aka "max")
>IBM Research
>San Jose, CA USA
>On Tue, Aug 12, 2008 at 7:01 AM, John F. Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> Martin,
>> Thanks for the pointers to your papers.  I agree with a lot of what
>> you say, but my major concern is that there is much, much more to say
>> that goes far beyond what the Semantic Web is currently doing.  A lot
>> of useful work has been done within the SemWeb paradigm, but my major
>> complaint is that it's too provincial.  The foundation was established
>> without considering the immense amount of mission-critical technology
>> that was already available and very widely used.
>> Relational databases are the most obvious technology that was omitted.
>> The world economy runs on RDBs, and nearly every major commercial web
>> site is integrated with an RDB.  For smaller sites, the standard is
>> LAMP:  Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl, Python, or PHP.
>> When RDF(S) was being designed, the obvious approach was to support
>> arbitrary n-tuples.  That would have made it trivial to download or
>> upload any or all of an SQL database (or the response from an SQL
>> query) to or from RDF n-tuples.  Some people who had a bright idea
>> for implementing "triple stores" thought that they could implement
>> triples faster than n-tuples.  But that is not only false, it
>> would be hopelessly nearsighted as a design decision, even if it
>> had a grain of truth.
>> Another weakness is that the designers ignored the major lesson
>> of DB design from the earliest, pre-relational days:  a DB without
>> indexing is hopelessly inefficient.  Embedding data in web pages
>> is useful for many purposes, but high-speed processing of large
>> volumes of data requires downloading and indexing. (Note Google.)
>> Another limitation is caused by ignoring existing standards.
>> There is an ISO standard for Prolog, but people are still working
>> on an incredibly underpowered version called RuleML.  Many major
>> sites routinely download RDF and OWL into Prolog in order to get
>> any kind of reasonable performance.  At our company (VivoMind),
>> we download and translate RDF and OWL into Prolog faster than
>> most native processors can do just the download.  Then the
>> Prolog version runs circles around the native systems.
>> Prolog is the major language used for immensely large systems
>> that do complex inferences.  As just one example, Experian
>> (one of the three major credit bureaus that check everybody's
>> credit worthiness) uses Prolog for all their complex checks.
>> In fact, they use it so much that they bought the Prologia
>> company, which was founded by Alain Colmerauer, the person
>> who first designed and implemented Prolog.
>> There is much more to say, but it's essential for the SemWebbers
>> to recognize that there is an enormous amount of very important
>> theory and technology that must be integrated with the Sem Web
>> before it can reach the high hopes that people had for it.  And
>> integration does *not* mean a one-sided mapping of everything
>> outside the Sem Web into XML-based notations.
>> And by the way, I'm pleased that you liked my paper "Fads and
>> Fallacies about Logic."  Jim Hendler was the editor of the
>> journal in which it was published, and Jim liked the paper
>> -- despite the fact that he and I have had many arguments
>> over the years about many things (although we occasionally
>> agree about a few).
>> John
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