Semantic Web n’all that

I took delight in discovering some time ago that the “semantic web” was coined by Michel Foucault (“Les Mots Et Les Choses” 1966, aka “The Order of Things” to distinguish it from Quine’s “Word and Object”) many years before Tim Berners-Lee came along. Not that I have anything against Sir TBL – it’s just part of my interminable “nothing new under the sun” thread, whereby I keep finding evidence of no-brainers in the archaeology of knowledge management. (I’m currently reading Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge purely by coincidence).

In other words “Knowledge IS a Semantic Web”. That’s what it is, not just what someone, anyone calls it or characterises it.

Another link I unearthed today, re-reading Dan Brickley’s 2001 Semantic Web presentation (on RDF and all that), is Sir TBL’s original 1989 CERN Proposal for his “mesh” of information – the word “web” appears a couple of times, and the word semantic not at all. He coined “world-wide-web” later when first coding his ideas in 1990.

The facts that jumped out at me …. I’ve been involved in exploitation of associative information modelling since before web technology existed …. it has been amazing to see the convergence of the W3C technology with the ideas in general. The first key is “identification” (Namespaces & URI’s et al), the next is “overlapping vocabularies and meta-data conventions” and the third is relationships or more precisely “types of relationships”. The other mind-blowing point, given the “evolutionary schema frameworks” idea I’m currently working with, is this summary from Dan,

The common model:
why use ‘nodes and arcs’? :
[An associative model with identification of the nodes
and typing of the arcs.]

– arbitrarily extensible (just add more connections)
– we can decentralise control using URIs
– we can disagree about node and link types, yet still share infrastructure (syntax, databases, editors)
– URIs create a market for data merging, aggregation, annotation and filtering services

Spot on Dan. It’s the decentralised control and the “market” for services, which gives rise to “emergence” and evolution – the opportunity for change in an environment which is both nurturing and competitive.

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