Semantic Web, Web

Answering to: The One Crucial Idea of Web 2.0

With this blog post I’m answering Joshua Porter regarding one of his most recent blog posts. To fully appreciate or understand my response, you should read his before continuing to read this post.

What is Web 2.0? Personally I do not agree that Web 2.0 is defined, as widely accepted, by the new social Web services trend that relies on a community to define and “dig” the Web. I would call that Web the “Web 1.5”: a new crucial step toward something much bigger: the Semantic Web; my view of the Web 2.0.

In reality, the new social Web services like Digg, Flickr, Del.icio.us, etc. are not new technologies. These services use old, well-understood methods and technologies. I think that the crucial factor that makes them spread like voracious mushrooms is the drastic decline of the price of their supporting infrastructure: cheap broadband, good open source (and free) developing technologies like MySQL, PHP (no licensing costs) and gigabytes of hard drive space for pennies. This is a form of convergence, not a new Web.

Mr. Porter wrote:

If there is one idea that encapsulates what Web 2.0 is about, one idea that wasn’t a factor before but is a factor now, it’s the idea of leveraging the network to uncover the Wisdom of Crowds. Forget Ajax, APIs, and other technologies for a second. The big challenge is aggregating whatever tidbits of digitally-recorded behavior we can find, making some sense of it algorithmically, and then uncovering the wisdom of crowds through a clear and easy interface to it.

It is all about popularity; it is all about Google Pagerank. But it is one tool amongst many others.

Google offers good services. Google changed the landscape in the search industry. The problem is that I can always spend 1 hour finding something on the Web, and yet what I find is often basically unacceptable.

To upgrade the Web, we should see a breakthrough that drastically upgrades its efficiency. Unfortunately Digg or Technorati have never helped me to decrease search time. They are cool services, but they don’t answer that particular need.

To put the tag 2.0 on the Web, we should see such a breakthrough. It is why I would call the emerging social trend 1.5: a good step forward, but not enough to change the first number of the version.

I have some questions for people who think that the current emerging “Web 2.0” is a major breakthrough for the Web:

1- What happens if the “crowd” does not find the golden piece of information I am searching for because it is buried too deeply in the Web and nobody noticed it before?

2- Did anyone see an article written on the Canadian government that offers tricks to complete your income taxes form popping-up on Digg?

The problem I see with this method is that something has to be flagged by many, many people to pop-up to the surface – *something* has to be useful to many people that will dig it, link to it, etc. And personally I find useful information all day long, but I don’t or won’t link to that useful information.

I do not want to have the references to resources that meets the needs of *everybody on the Web*; I want to have the references to resources that fill MY needs.

The only time that such methods are really useful is when my needs meet those of the majority. That is often the case when we talk about general information. However it just doesn’t work when I start to search for up-to-date and specific information about an obscure subject, a subject that few people care about, or even more important, a subject about which information has to be inferred in order to be discovered!

What is happening with these new services like Digg, Flickr or Del.icio.us, started with Google’s Pagerank idea, is good and really cool, but I hope this is not a end-point for the next 10 years – otherwise we will miss focusing on something much more useful and important.

And the evidence is mounting. Today, Richard MacManus writes of the new features on Rojo, and in explaining what they are Chris Alden tells Richard that they’re emulating Pagerank:

“How do we do it? (determine relevance) Generally, just like Google used link metadata to determine relevance of search results, there is a fair amount of metadata we can use to infer relevance, including how many people are reading, tagging, and voting for a story, how popular the feed is – both to you personally, to your contacts, and to all readers, as well as things like link data and content analysis. “

When I read this, I think about the Semantic Web: a way to create metadata on resources not to infer relevance, but to infer Knowledge. Relevance is good, at least in some scenarios, but Knowledge is better because it is good in all scenarios. Remember: Knowledge is power.

The problem is that people think about inferring relevance in terms of popularity, people linking and talking about something, and not in term of Knowledge.

I sincerely hope that people will start to talk about the Web 2.0 as a web of Knowledge, a Web of *Semantic usage*. As I said, I would refer as the social Web to the Web 1.5: a first step, a first non-academic and widespread experience toward the Web 2.0: the Web of Knowledge, the Web where you do not lose 1 hour of your precious time searching for something trivial but unfortunately not popular.

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