headlines: can URIs be ambigous – democracy prevails!

There is a question related to the semantic web, and this question is – will it be a centralized, dictated system or open? Is there “one weird standard to rule us all?”

Update: Roy Fielding, who motivated to write me this post yesterday, answered in a comment and I reconsidered my post, rewriting it (29.2.2008). Updates are Italic, deleted text striked.

The fundamental question as such – is the semantic web a controllable system or a distributed (more chaotic) structure – shows up in different manifestations. I interpret the question of unambigous URIs – one URI for one concept, not multiple – as subtopic of this.

As you could guess already, the answer is no. The Semantic Web is as free, open, uncontrolled, unreliable as the web today, but with more features.

Roy Fielding said (actually cited) that one the Semantic Web’s goal is to unambigously identify resources. He also cited another quote by Tim Berners Lee:
I don’t want the Web to constrain what people do: the Web
is not there to constrain society. It’s there to model society
in its completeness, in its entirety. [Tim Berners-Lee, 1994]

What does this mean? Unambigous means when you talk about the Tesla Car, you must always use the same identifier (in our case, a URI) to refer to it. As could be expected, this idea is not a requirement of the semantic web and not practically required nor used much. Some people state it as a nice scientific goal, but deployers don’t have to care about it as the W3C recommendation has something else to say.

Instead, people continue to say things about the world in blogposts and wikipedia and elsewhere as always, minting new URIs for things as they want. In the Semantic Web, the standard tags “rdfs:seeAlso” and “owl:sameAs” are then used to link the different views about the same thing, or the Tesla. If you want to neen non-ambiguity, perhaps use sindice (or any other semantic web search engine). Horray, freedom of expression and scalability prevails.

And yes, the Semantic Web is already there, for example on openlinkeddata, or on GoPubMed. So maybe Roy’s statement “the semantic web will never happen” indicates Roy is living in the past? We will see in the future…

Sorry Mr Fielding, this sarcasm now rebounds to myself, I was wrong, you are right in citing both positions.

One Reply to “headlines: can URIs be ambigous – democracy prevails!”

  1. thanks for the clarification, I changed the blog post to show your original intention.

    In your post, you asked the question “If someone can show that this requirement is inherently unsatisfiable, doesn’t that imply the Semantic Web will never happen?” – this implies that the semantic web has not happened yet and that this question will influence its happening-or-not.

    I interpreted this as “the semantic web has not happened yet” and won’t, until the ambiguity problem is solved. Also, you cite both sides.

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