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Re: [ontolog-forum] Is there something I missed?

To: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Steve Newcomb <srn@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 03 Feb 2009 11:16:09 -0500
Message-id: <49886DC9.2020002@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Pat, the history of the W3C speaks for itself, in terms that no 
apologist can completely obscure.  Since its founding by three competing 
system vendors, much window-dressing has been added, including its many 
me-too academic members who trade their participation for inclusion in 
its public and private funding games.  But the W3C's institutional 
foundation is unchanged.  Since you claim that the W3C is not, in fact, 
a vendor consortium, the burden is upon you to answer the question: "Why 
does Tim Berners-Lee personally make all the decisions?"  The correct 
answer, which amazingly few people fully appreciate, is that the W3C is 
a dictatorship because it *must* be in order to allow its members to 
engage in members-only conversations about how the Web will actually 
work.  The W3C meets the definition of a "conspiracy in restraint of 
trade" as defined by the Sherman Antitrust Act (an 1890 U.S. law 
designed to benefit the public by limiting the power of cartels and 
monopolies).  But W3C's members are not prosecutable as co-conspirators 
under the Sherman Act, at least theoretically because Sir Tim makes all 
the decisions, and all the members-only conversations are regarded as 
merely advisory to him.  This is a fact, not a mere perception, and no 
amount of spin-artistry can change it, nor can gestures toward W3C's 
splendid array of public-spirited-seeming window-dressings.    (01)

Does the W3C's work to promote Tim's "Semantic Web" vision actually 
benefit the public?  It probably does, but the real question is, would a 
different vision benefit the public more?  I claim that it would.  I 
make an even more disquieting claim: that W3C's deliberate confounding 
of subject identification with web-resource identification amounts to 
nothing less than an attempt to seek rents on all kinds of ideas.   If 
the W3C were really interested in public benefit, as opposed to private 
benefit, it would seek a next-generation Web that would intrinsically 
tend to amalgamate information around subjects of conversation, and that 
would encourage entities *other* than large aggregations of capital 
(entities like you and me, for instance) to share and leverage each 
other's insights, while preserving, honoring, and encouraging diversity, 
including *ontological* diversity (and meta-ontological diversity, 
etc.).  The W3C is doing exactly the opposite of this.  It's trying to 
build a vast AI system as quickly as possible, and it is well prepared 
to pay for it in the coin of civilization's diversity.  For the public, 
it's a bad deal.  It's not a recipe for world peace and mutual 
understanding.  It's a recipe for economic and cultural dominance games 
and, with "luck", empire.  (Whose luck?  Not the public's.)    (02)

It's important to understand that Tim's knighthood recognizes him as a 
member of the economic establishment (a similar but lesser 
royalty-bestowed honor is the aptly-named "Order of the British 
Empire").  While the significance of much of what Tim says is as elusive 
as that of Alan Greenspan's economic forecasts during his tenure as Fed 
Chairman, this much is clear:    (03)

(a) He wants us all to use a W3C-designed ontology language.  Diversity, 
schmiversity.  The W3C universes of discourse shall be THE universes of 
discourse on the Web.  And if you're not interested in any of the 
W3C-blessed levels of support for logical inferencing, you have little 
to contribute to the "Semantic Web", no matter how much you know, or 
what you have to offer.    (04)

(b) He wants all ideas to be identified via web addresses.     (05)

Pat, despite what you say, a web address is just a web address, which is 
why I choose to call it a "web address".  Any use of a web address as 
the address of a subject of conversation is (i) irrelevant to its use as 
a web address, unless the subject *is* the web address qua web address, 
(ii) creates ambiguity at the very root of all expressions, ambiguity 
that cannot be resolved in a way that maximizes the value of any 
intellectual commons that uses web addresses as subject addresses, and 
(iii) to the degree that the confusion between web addresses and subject 
addresses is publicly accepted, to that same degree rents on 
publicly-owned ideas can be collected by the owners of the domain names 
that appear in the web addresses of those ideas.  Talk about 
privatization!   The "Semantic Web" creates a technological/legal means, 
at least for aggregations of capital large enough to hire teams of 
lawyers, whereby public conversations about things that matter to the 
public can be more privatized, and more big-media-influenced, and even 
less diverse, than they already are.  This will not serve the public 
interest.  (Well, indirectly, it might serve the public interest by 
drawing attention to various absurdities in existing law, but it seems 
like a suboptimal way forward.)    (06)

Economic prosperity is a function of the application of accurate 
knowledge by *every* actor.  So why isn't the so-very-publicly-minded 
W3C working to give the *public*, instead of private interests, control 
of the public's own information?  This is my point: we should not expect 
the W3C to solve this problem.  W3C is so constituted as to be unable to 
solve it.  (But I do believe the problem can be solved, nevertheless.)    (07)

I'm making observations from my own frame of reference, here.  My frame 
of reference is, I think, less constrained by the assumption that 
whatever's good for big capital is good for the world, than Tim's is.  
(I note wryly, in the current context, that it used to be said that, 
"What's good for General Motors is good for the country.")  Pat, you 
have caricatured my claim that W3C is a vendor consortium as a claim 
that the W3C is the slave of its vendor-members.  That's not what I 
said, and I make no such claim.  What I do claim, and quite accurately, 
is that W3C's activities serve private interests, not public ones.  Its 
guiding RDF vision is capitalist-oriented, not commons-oriented.  Its 
activities and recommendations have actually *impeded* the development 
of a diverse public intellectual commons.  So it's galling, for me, that 
W3C is widely perceived as being a public-benefitting organization, when 
in fact it is a conspiracy in restraint of trade, and when in fact its 
flagship project is fundamentally and technically ill-suited to the 
development of a diverse *public* intellectual commons.   The W3C is not 
interested in such a goal, but we all should be, except for those who 
insist that being rich means that everyone else is poorer than we are.  
(Personally, I feel just the opposite.)    (08)

Pat, your claim that W3C is not a vendor consortium because it 
observably has so many academic members is unworthy of you.  I was a 
professor at a well-known public university for 14 years.  My naivete 
about where research funds come from, and about the reasons why 
universities join private consortia, did not survive that experience.  
How does yours still survive, I wonder?    (09)

Steve Newcomb    (010)

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