Preowned Semantic Web Cars for Bigfoot

Unsurprisingly, I find this “Semantic Web” business very irritating. I have said for years (literally) that if you want a new concept or idea to gain widespread acceptance, you must make it easy for people to understand both the concept and the benefits thereof. As far as I can tell, no one promoting the “Semantic Web” has even tried to do that.

stupidGenerally, there are three reasons why concepts remain shrouded in mystery and jargon. The first is that the concept can’t be explained because it isn’t real. There’s a reason why I don’t have a Snipe mounted on my wall, notwithstanding all the late night hunts I have been the victim or proprietor of. The second reason is because no one wants to actually execute on the concept. The insiders merely toss jabberwocky back and forth in navel gazing ecstasy. This tendency was one of the major contributors to the death of the citizen journalism movement. The third reason, of course, is because it is a secret. Like the Masons or Elvis Presley’s whereabouts. Since teens of bloggers are all trying, in vain, but trying, to spread the word about the “Semantic Web,” I have to assume this is not the reason.

So today I come across a list of the Top 10 Semantic Web Products for 2008. I’m into lists, so I go looking for enlightenment. Surely by reading the list I can figure out what “Semantic Web” means.


So I try Wikipedia. Just like a song, you can tell a lot about a topic from the first line: “The Semantic Web is an evolving extension of the World Wide Web in which the semantics of information and services on the web is defined, making it possible for the web to understand and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web content.” Say what?

Later, there’s this sentence, which I actually understand: “Some elements of the semantic web are expressed as prospective future possibilities that are yet to be implemented or realized.” No shit Sherlock. The linked definition of semantic publishing is only slightly less indecipherable, with this helpful discussion appearing just before an academically stunning reference to “killer applications”: “In order to make the semantic web work and realize its potentials, information must be presented (i.e. published) in semantic format on the web. Thus, as the semantic web is further developed and adopted, semantic publishing will become a main form of web publishing.” Uh, OK.

When all else fails, I turn to the dictionary (I know what the web is, so I’ll skip that word): It looks like the second definition of semantic is the applicable one: “Of, relating to, or according to the science of semantics.” On to semantics: “The study or science of meaning in language.”

My head is spinning.

I’m a naturally curious guy, but if a half hour of research leads to more questions than answers, I’m out. Too busy for that.

Here’s the thing. If this guy can explain black holes as clearly as he does, then, why can’t someone explain what in the heck the “Semantic Web” is?

Is it that they can’t or won’t. Does it matter?

Web 3.0: Just Say No(thing)

Memo to Stowe and Scott (and many others, and I guess me now): by writing about this Web 3.0 business, you are propagating the needless jargon you want to bury.

Media and marketing are always looking for the next slogan, the next hook, the next big thing.  If one doesn’t come along fast enough, they’ll try to invent one.  Wikipedia summarizes this age old marketing concept:

The next big thing is a concept in marketing that refers to a product or idea that will allow for a high amount of sales for that product and related products. Marketers believe that by finding or creating the next big thing they will spark a cultural revolution that results in this sales increase.

If you can get associated with the big thing of the moment, there’s authority to be had and money to be made.  That’s part of why a bunch of people get their noses out of joint when they aren’t invited to pay thousands of dollars to attend an O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference.

That’s all there is to John Markoff’s Web 3.0 article.  An attempt to get a little traction, and maybe create a religion in the process.  A little L. Ron kitchen work, web style.

Nick Carr hopes Web 3.0 will be better.  If not, someone can toss Web 4.0, 5.0 and 6.0 against the wall until one of them sticks.  Nick quotes Markoff quoting some cat who’s a promoter (that’s a funny word in this context) of artificial intelligence.  He thinks Web 3.0 is spooky.

I think what’s even more spooky is when people create needless jargon and we all jump in line to help publicize it.  I also think more than a little of the intelligence that led to the premature buzz (such as it is) about Web 3.0 is, well, artificial.  Like the plastic apple in a bowl, it looks tasty pretty from afar.  But one bite tells you there’s nothing to it but artifice and air.

On the other hand, how silly is it of me to write a post suggesting that we not talk about Web 3.0?

I tried, and failed, not to write this post.  I am doing the very thing I think we shouldn’t do- take the bait and run with it.  Does the fact that I know it make it any less culpable?

I don’t know.  Hopefully I can resist writing another post about Web 3.0 for a long time.  Maybe forever.

Allison Krauss was right- sometimes we say it best when we say nothing at all.

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Debunking this Gesture Nonsense

gesturesRobert Scoble posts today about the gesture business Steve Gillmor has been talking about for some time now.

It’s time to debunk this gesture nonsense once and for all.

Scoble tells of how someone emailed him about a fire in Montana near the town where Scoble’s mom lived before she died. The emailer knew Scoble would be interested because he read Scoble’s blog posts from when he went to visit his mom when she was sick. Somehow the fact of this email explains and supports (at least to Scoble) the whole gesture business.

To call posted or emailed content gestures is the worst sort of nomenclature for the sake of nomenclature. It is “pre-owned cars” times infinity. The only algorithm you need to find these so-called gestures are the web addresses for Google and Technorati. The “information retrieval system” is in place right now, and it has been for years.

The fact that someone who knows Scoble has a connection to a town in Montana emails him a link to an article he might be interested in does utterly nothing to support some revolutionary gesture concept. This sort of thing happens a million times a day. To say that such an email supports the gesture business is like saying the fact the sky is blue supports the fact that I am the King of England.

Lots of people find out lots of things every day via emails and water cooler conversation before they read about it on Google or in the paper. All this proves is that people tell other people things they might be interested in.

More importantly, the gesture theory can be debunked mathematically.

Scoble says he doesn’t have to link to a post he mentions by Fred Wilson, because:

“I didn’t link to Fred Wilson’s blog. Why? Cause if you really cared you’d have read it by now, right? I assume my readers know how to use Google and TechMeme. Cause you’re smarter than me and I can find Fred in both places right now.”

and because:

“Yeah, Steve Gillmor explained to me why NOT linking is better than linking. Tell me Fred, did your traffic from search engines go up today?”

It is a mathematical certainty that at least some people who read Scoble’s post and are interested in what Fred has to say will NOT go to the extra effort to do a Google or Technorati search to find Fred’s post. So the gesture nonsense will frustrate not only those people, who could otherwise have accessed Fred’s post by clicking a link, as well as Fred, who presumably would like interested people to read what he writes. In sum, the theory that it’s better not to link to Fred’s post is void on its face.

It is self-serving bullshit dreamed up by some guys to support their efforts to recreate an internet oligarchy that is both outdated and inconsistent with the beauty and purpose of the new internet. In many ways it is the reaction of the old to the advances of the new. Somebody moved their cheese and they are trying to build a time machine to help get it back.

If you want further proof, ask yourself this question. Why is this gesture business being promoted in lieu of linking, as opposed to in addition to linking? Couldn’t linking and gestures co-exist peacefully? Of course they could. But not if you treat the blogosphere like the Winchester House and obsess on building it and rebuilding it to your tastes to the extent that you never get to the point of enjoying what you have built.

I can’t tell if Gillmor and his crew really believe in this gesture business, or if this is some L. Ron Hubbard-like attempt to meld science fiction and mythology into a new internet religion.

What I can say is that this gesture/non-linking business is the most extreme form of arrogance I have seen in a long time.

The bottom line is that these guys don’t want to link, and they are working like mad to create a philosophy that will support their refusal to do so. That or this is some epic inside joke at the expense of the rest of us.

Either way, the only gesture I see is some guys who, for one reason or another, have the microphone waiving their middle fingers at the rest of us.

Bubble 2.0 Watch: He Said Thought Leaders

web20Om Malik says that the thought leaders (a new “pre-owned car” word for my dictionary of needlessly fancy terms), along with investors and pundits, have lately begun to wonder about the whole Web 2.0 business.

Proving that thought leaders have been reading blogs for months, a “well known angel investor,” which I believe is a nice word for a rich guy who swoops down like an angel from heaven and tosses some cash at whatever science project turned business grabs his fancy in exchange for the possibility to get even richer by later selling said project to either Yahoo or some poor smuck in an IPO, wrote, according to Om, “that many of the Web 2.0 companies that were cropping up were targeting a niche audience. He found that many were me-too or forgettable permutations of some of the more established players such as Flickr, You Tube or Digg.”

Ya think? I and a bunch of other average Joes must be thought leaders too, since we have been saying that for months.

Om, who is generally on the money about things technological, goes on to talk about scalability and Web 2.0, arguing that eventually some of the advances that are being made in the Web 2.0 arena will find their way into the enterprise applications that run big business, sort of the way NASA’s velcro found its way onto my 4 year old’s tennis shoes.

Maybe. Eventually. But most big business is running enterprise applications that are 2 or 3 versions old, so Om and I will be retired before the benefitted versions find their way onto most corporate desktops. By then my grandkids will be hoping to get links from Om’s grandkids.

I continue to think that too many people are trying to stuff business, hobbies, old media and blogs into the same bag. I don’t know if it’s a mass scam in the making or if people who are used to writing about business and old media are just writing about what they know.

What I do know is that to judge success you have to start with perspective.

As Dave Winer points out, TechCrunch’s 53,000 or so subscribers is huge in blogosphere terms. 53,000 viewers would be a gigantic bomb if it were a TV show, which is measured in old media terms. Similarly, a Web 2.0 application that has a million users at $0 a month makes a lot less profit than my blog, which makes very little, but costs almost nothing to operate.

You can’t measure success in raw numbers. And you can’t judge a blog by old media standards.

Blogs are not businesses, no matter how many people try to pretend they are. A part of a business, yes. The business, no.

Similarly, most of these Web 2.0 applications are not businesses. A part of a business, yes (thus the sell to Yahoo business plan). But still not the business.

I think there are a lot of people trying to stuff a lot of square pegs in the old and familiar round holes.

As soon as they realize that won’t work, we’ll step back, get some perspective and see where we are.