Will The Semantic Web Ever Take Off?

I was just reading this article from Priyank Mohan’s Semantic Technology Blog.  He draws parallels between it and the movement to automated online B2B transactions from years ago and linked data on the web, and what lessons we should learn from the (mostly) failure of B2B.  Priyank focuses mostly on the similarities of the benefits, which is useful, but I think both movements didn’t have the impact they were supposed to have for the same basic reason; They both require incredible amounts of work that will only pay off if enough other companies follow suit.  As much as I would love to see it happen in the near future, I don’t think it will

Priyank talks about Metcalf’s Law, which states roughly that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connections on the network.  This really points out the problem.  It takes great vision and faith to be in that first wave.  I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my father when I was young.  I wanted a new record player (Google it if you don’t know what that is, kids), because the one I had was very good, but it didn’t play 45RPM records.  His answer was that I didn’t have any 45RPM records. You see where this is going, right?  Of course I answered that I didn’t have any because I didn’t have a record player that could play them.  The chicken and the egg problem.

The value of the Semantic Web can only be significant after many data and service providers take that plunge.  The number of companies willing to make big, expensive risks these days is very low.  Companies that were around in 2003 or so and remember the state of high tech at that time are not going to be so quick to wave the “We’ve recovered!” flag.  I’ve done a significant amount of work at Aptima in metadata and RDF wrangling, and I appreciate the synergies that could arise if websites could talk to each other but I don’t see it happen.  There are other issues besides ramp-up work, and I mention some of them in this post. First and foremost is that companies have good business reasons to not publishing a lot of this reasons, like not helping the competition.

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