The Semantic Web as a Matter of Enlightened Self-Interest

Blogspace: About: Realizing the Semantic Web

Jon Udell, in his book Practical Internet Groupware, speaks about the use of docbases: data stores of semistructured information (documents) in systems like newsgroups, web discussion forums, etc. He states that one of the most important factors in getting a docbase system used is making it a matter of enlightened self-interest. That is, people who store their information in the docbase must get an immediate and useful benefit from doing that.

While this idea is by no means new, it does bring to light an important fact about the creation of standards and new technologies. No one will go through extra hoops and lots of work to conform to a standard, if there is no immediate and useful benefit from doing so. Look at the Web, for example. People who put up web sites got an immediate benefit: they had access to their data from anywhere and could easily share that data with anyone with a web browser.

Unfortunately, the new work on technologies such as RDF and XML do not have this benefit. I see no benefit from providing my information in these formats -- it just means more work for me. No web browser can view these formats, and it seems as if they never will. Unless, of course, I write more files: XSLT transformations to display it properly and DHTML code to modify it, the list goes on.

Needless to say, this isn't going to have very many people jumping to use these new formats. Instead, we need to provide some sort of system that provides an immediate, easy use of structured data. What are the benefits of structured data? One is the separation of form from function. Therefore, any system that we create should allow the presentation of the data to be easily modified. Another is the ability to reference portions of the data. Therefore, our system should allow specific links to be made. Finally, the ability to make queries and changes on large quantities of data. Therefore, our system must have this ability also.

In an attempt to create a system that does this, I've designed Blogspace.

An Aaron Swartz Project