Shirky on The Semantic Web

By Deane Barker on November 9, 2003

The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview: Clay Shirky gets medieval on The Semantic Web.

“In an echo of Richard Gabriel’s Worse is Better argumment, the Semantic Web imagines that completeness and correctness of data exposed on the web are the cardinal virtues, and that any amount of implementation complexity is acceptable in pursuit of those virtues. The problem is that the more semantic consistency required by a standard, the sharper the tradeoff between complexity and scale. It’s easy to get broad agreement in a narrow group of users, or vice-versa, but not both.”

The guy who posted this to Metafilter, however, sums it up better:

“The most damning part of the essay is the part about languages and categories being deeply intertwined with worldview and with culture — if there’s no good definition for the word ‘bachelor’, how can there be an encoding of ‘friend’, ‘lover’ … or anything else that isn’t zipcode?”

Computers and information architecture is very rigid, and The Semantic Web strikes me an attempt to cram every bit of…life into some kind of framework. But, sadly, life is more complicated than that. This is the same way I feel about artificial intelligence and “self aware” machines. It’s not going to happen. I don’t care how fast your machine is — life is too complicated.

Without getting too religious on you, life is more than a calculation. Life is more than A plus B equals C. There’s an angle to life that we’ll never be able to explain, much less code.



  1. Interesting… I’ve got a piece also talking about Clay Shirky’s piece and the google ad that shows are mostly non-profit orgs.

    Let me know when google displays something relevant!

Comments are closed. If you have something you really want to say, tweet @gadgetopia.