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

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2008 02:19:50 -0400
Message-id: <48A91486.6050300@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ron,    (01)

Just a comment about standards:    (02)

 > My understanding is that most of the "best" standards have come
 > about through a consensus between the major commercial players
 > with the active (frequently funded) participation of the academic
 > community.    (03)

The important caveat is that committees are terrible at design,
but they're very good at evaluation.  There are many proverbs and
anecdotes about that point:    (04)

  - Too many cooks spoil the broth.    (05)

  - A camel is a horse designed by committee.  (This is a slur on
    camels, which are very well designed for their environment.)    (06)

  - Fred Brooks' _Mythical Man Month_, in which he observes that
    OS/360 would have been far better designed by a group of
    about a dozen designers instead of 150.    (07)

The best designs are developed by small groups.  After they have
proved their value on at least one important application, a committee
can evaluate them, note missing or inadequate features, and polish up
the details.    (08)

A prime example is FORTRAN, which was designed by a group of "academics"
who happened to be employed by IBM (at a time when IBM had a sufficient
monopoly to throw money at researchers who weren't making a measurable
contribution to the bottom line).    (09)

There were a few programming languages implemented before FORTRAN,
but they were all very inefficient (at a time when computers were
a few thousand times slower than today's cell phones).  The FORTRAN
group (of about half a dozen people led by John Backus) set out to
design a language and compiler that would produce code that was close
to the efficiency of code produced by a decent assembly-language
programmer.  And they succeeded.    (010)

After a couple of iterations by IBM, FORTRAN IV became a very good,
very usable, and very efficient language for numeric computation.
The ANSI and later ISO standards bodies took over.  Over fifty years
later, they are still producing new revisions that preserve much
of the original core language.  Today, FORTRAN is still the most
efficient and most widely used language for high-speed numeric
computation.    (011)

For some related thoughts, see the "Law of Standards," which I
formulated in 1991:    (012)

    http://www.jfsowa.com/computer/standard.htm    (013)

And by the way, the original WWW was designed by a small group,
but the Semantic Web was designed by a very large committee.    (014)

John Sowa    (015)

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