Journal: News & Comment

Monday, February 16, 2004
# 9:43:00 PM:

Web services as 7-Eleven, the Semantic Web as college, plus a bonus

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Most of the topics on my old friend Dave Orchard's weblog are technically way above my head, but his recent post about solving tactical problems when discussing web services and the Semantic Web is enlightening.

What the heck is the Semantic Web? It's the idea of Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web back in 1989, and is, as I understand it, the concept of making the Web smart enough to understand itself. Berners-Lee calls it "an extension of the current Web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation."

Web services, on the other hand, are more pragmatic. They are software applications that communicate with one another using web standards. Simple examples include many of the things you see on my site: the link list (which comes from BlogRolling), the comments feature (from HaloScan), these entries themselves (via Blogger), and my site search (through Atomz). I could (in theory) have written or installed my own software to provide those services, but instead I chose to use them via the Web. So this page is an agglomeration of content served up from various different places around the Web, each service acting as a component of my site.

There aren't so many examples for the Sematic Web, because it is so over-arching—and, so far, incomplete. But there are arguments between people working on the Semantic Web and in web services ("SW" and "WS," just to make things confusing) about which approach is best for solving particular kinds of problems. Dave explains very effectively why that is, using a fine analogy:

Imagine a father and a teenage son talking about the son getting some gas money. The dad says "Son, you gotta get a job to get gas money". The son says "ok, I don't really have any skills so I'll just apply at 7-11 and I'll skip college". The dad says, "Son, getting a job at 7-11 isn't the solution. Sure it solves your short-term problem but that doesn't get you any long term benefits like more rewarding work and a bigger salary. You should go to college". To which the son says, "sure Dad, that all sounds good and I'll think about the college thing. But I just want to get some gas money so I can take my girlfriend out on a date".

You see the problem? There's a short-term solution and a potential long-term solution. To solve a pressing need now, the advice is buy into a whole big framework of college. And the son also has heard lots of stories of people who went to university, got a degree, and then still didn't get jobs. So they stayed on at university and got a Masters degree. And still didn't get a job. There's no guarantee that college will get the long-term results.

The way that I figure it, is the dad needs to play his cards a bit better.

Incidentally, I discovered while searching for links just now that you can ask Google for definitions. Try something like define:groovy or define:frontal lobe to see what I mean. What kinds of results you get depend on whether you use a space (which is a bit obscure, I think), and I'm not sure how Google decides if something is a definition, but it's neat nevertheless.


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