The Testosteronic Phallacy of Dominance and Control

Mud Time creates some bleak mindspaces, and Stephen Downes’ posting of yesterday afternoon Why the Semantic Web Will Fail can perhaps be read in this light. A few trenchant bits:

The Semantic Web will never work because it depends on businesses working together, on them cooperating.
We are talking about the most conservative bunch of people in the world, people who believe in greed and cut-throat business ethics. People who would steal one another’s property if it weren’t nailed down. People like, well, Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch.
And they’re all going to play nice and create one seamless Semantic Web that will work between companies – competing entities choreographic their responses so they can work together to grant you a seamless experience?
Not a chance.

…The future is not in the Semantic Web (or in Java, or in enterprise computing – all for the same reason). Careers based on that premise will founder. Because the people saying all the semantic-webbish things – speak the same language, standardize your work, orchestrate the services – are the people who will shut down the pipes, change the standards, and look out for their own interests (at the expense of yours).

…The future of the web will be based on personal computing.
Not because everybody in the world is some sort of Ayn-Rand-close [?clone?] backstabbing money-grubbing leech.
But because there’s just enough of them – and they’re the one’s who tend to rise in business. And when they say “give me your data” (or “let me manage your money” or “base your career on my advice”) it’s merely a prelude to their attempting to take you to the cleaners.
If my online world depends on them – and in the Semantic Web, it would – then my online world will fail. Will be a house of cards that will eventually collapse.

I extract these pieces not as a substitute for Stephen’s whole argument, but to challenge you to read and consider the whole thing, with the wish that you’ll come up with something hopeful as an anodyne. But I’m afraid he’s right –and I’d been blithely thinking that it was government meddling that would end the Idyll, but no, it’s those Adamic Market Forces that are the real danger, underlain by their besetting sins of greed and venality, in the service of Interests. It’s a Guy Thing.

3 thoughts on “The Testosteronic Phallacy of Dominance and Control

  1. AvatarPatrick Gosetti-Murrayjohn

    Disagreement a’plenty with Stephen’s post is appearing in the comments. But I’ll offer you one that might give some hope–his premise is wrong from the start. The Semantic Web doesn’t depend on businesses working together. His premise sounds to be like saying “blogging will never work because it depends on publishers getting together and cooperating.” We don’t need corporate hierarchy (and agreement within that hierarchy) to make the information in the Semantic Web work any more than we need a hierarchy of publishing to make blogging work.
    A great example comes from dbpedia.org. They’ve gathered up Wikipedia, put the information into RDF (not all the text content, of course, but all the parts that could be given a URI), and exposed it as a web service using the SPARQL query language. In effect, we’ve got all the information from Wikipedia put into a happy database form and made part of the semantic web. Also has rdfs:seeAlso links to a couple other triple stores.
    As some people have pointed out in the comments on Stephen’s post, he makes too much of the idea that SW needs an agreed-upon standard. SW uses ontologies, not The Ontology. dbpedia.org’s ontology for the data uses a number of already-existing ontologies, as well as one of their own creation.
    So the same energy that makes Wikipedia work can fuel a lot of the Semantic Web fires. We’re not there yet, but the fire’s getting close to cooking temperature.

  2. AvatarBryan Alexander

    I love your masculine argument, Hugh. That point looms large – er, appears to be underappreciated.
    Several points, Patrick. First, we have the quantity problem for structured metadata. Most users don’t do it well, or at all. Professionals have always failed to have the resources to catch up to the enormous curve of digital contents. I don’t think Sir Tim has folksonomies in mind.
    Second, I’m waiting to hear a mechanism for coping with abuse. I remember vividly watching the META tag get trashed in the 1990s.
    Third, the explosive growth of web 2.0 projects and movements, such as the Wikipedia and blogosphere you cite, depend on entirely different information architectures than anything articulated by any Semantic Web project. The comparison doesn’t add up. I do like your idea of “Web 3.0” simply copying the work of web 2.0.

  3. AvatarBryan Alexander

    I love your masculine argument, Hugh. That point looms large – er, appears to be underappreciated.
    Several points, Patrick. First, we have the quantity problem for structured metadata. Most users don’t do it well, or at all. Professionals have always failed to have the resources to catch up to the enormous curve of digital contents. I don’t think Sir Tim has folksonomies in mind.
    Second, I’m waiting to hear a mechanism for coping with abuse. I remember vividly watching the META tag get trashed in the 1990s.
    Third, the explosive growth of web 2.0 projects and movements, such as the Wikipedia and blogosphere you cite, depend on entirely different information architectures than anything articulated by any Semantic Web project. The comparison doesn’t add up. I do like your idea of “Web 3.0” simply copying the work of web 2.0.

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