On Web 2.0 and Ontologies
I have just searched "python" in Technorati. Suddenly, pictures from flickr bearing the tags "python" were presented to the right of my search results screen, along with lines from other blogs. Though I knew this feature of technorati/feedster, it was the 1st time I really saw it in action.
Web 2, with del.icio.us, last.fm, flickr and more is wrapping us. The change is so fundamental; Internet is actually becoming a river of digital consciousness, just as I wrote couple of years ago in an article about Microsoft Collaboration practices. Actually, what Microsoft tried to do in the collaboration area was something similar to web2.0, but it lacked something fundamental that I feel inside my veins: it lacked real people.
Today we see how web2 forms in front of our eyes. I am amazed and to that I add a bit of puzzlement. Ontologies are under serious attack; serious - because the attacks are managed by smart people with real arguments. Clay Shirky is one of them but I'll give an unexpected example: Adam Bosworth, Google VP of engineering (can be heard at IT Conversations). And there are more.
I'll sum up my intuitive understanding of their arguments: Ontology is reasonable when reality is objective. When Objective - bring a "reality domain expert" and he/she will describe reality (in triplets or quadruples - who cares…). And that's the paradigm of web 1.0 - we're putting stuff on the net and people are viewing it: passive to the objective digital world that was previously uploaded into the net by some "experts". But web 2.0 proved the ontological approach to be ridiculo.us! How many different tags (i.e. classifications) a single real entity (URI) has? All tags bearing different meanings to different people in different contexts. Web 2.0 is the post-modern of the web 1.0 modernism: there's no absolute truth, my interpretation of a URI is no better no worse than yours. In that case, objective description of reality in the form of ontology is pointless. Bosworth discusses very briefly RSS 1.0 which was based on RDF. He claimed it failed because it's complex and people don't think syllogism (that's from Clay…). RSS 1.0, he said, was the result of a standard committee, while RSS 2.0 was the outcome of a single man initiative (like Joshua Shachter's from del.icio.us). The differences are clear-cut: standards (IEEE etc) are formalization of objective world - objective but highly compromised! Web 2.0 has no standards! Standards and web 2.0 are almost antipodes. No standards and no compromises. I'm not taking position here!!! I'm not saying it's good or bad. But, post-modernism brought a lot of good things along with a lot of bad things, such as the potential "eradication" (that's probably extreme…) of solid moral ground. Web 2 has a potential to bring over huge moral problems - I am not aware of anyone who tackles this issue. When every point of view is legit, no point of view is valuable!
Also, a good question is what will be the future of standards. We, architects, are in a strange period, where standards are treated in contempt - and I agree they are highly problematic, complicated and useless... Bosworth, for instance, gives his pitch against the WS-* - they indeed are the most glorious yet ridiculous bunch of standards. How many of them exist? No one counts. And yes, they are as complex as RDF.