Saturday, March 15, 2008

Semantic Wiki's

I attended a Semantic Web Meetup this past Thursday (Mar 13) where the topic was Semantic Wiki's. Although the presentations were not as focused as I would have liked, the topic is an interesting one. The two talks focused on the Semantic Media Wiki and the presentations can be found here and here..

Semantic Media Wiki is an extension to Media Wiki, the wiki engine that powers Wikipedia. The basic idea is that the Wiki supports an underling Triplestore (product example). Triples model subject, predicate, and object relationships (For more Semantic Web background see this, this and this).

The problem with a regular Wiki is that the information is largely unstructured. Some may argue this is a feature and there is something to the argument that the popularity of the Wiki stems from not forcing authors to use cumbersome syntax to structure the data for the benefit of computers. However, this lack of structure makes the information in a Wiki hard to re-purpose and also makes Wiki's harder to maintain (consider the fact that there is no automation in Wikipedia to keep lists like this one in sync with new pages).

Semantic Wiki's solve this problem by tagging data with known relationships that the computer can automatically leverage to cross-reference, collate and re-purpose data.

I think this idea is a natural progression of the Wiki concept but it remains to be seen if Semantic Wikis ever reach a critical mass comparable to Wikipedia. My personal view is that the work of organizing mounds of textual information needs advances in computer processing (AI) and that only a select few fanatics will engage in "tripling up the web" manually. Although, when it comes to web trends my crystal ball has been rather clouded.

Readers of my older posts know that I have proposed similar ideas under the moniker WISDI. I am still interested in the WISDI idea but circumstances have forced me to turn my attention elsewhere for the near term (I'll update readers in future posts) .

Ultimately, triples are just a syntax for the logic of relations (which is not even first order logic) so, to me and many others, the Semantic Web initiative is using really low fidelity tools to attack a high fidelity problem. However, in the agile spirit of "the simplest thing that can possibly work" they may achieve a more usable and reusable web in the near term.

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