March 7, 2008
To start, we need to describe the semantic web. Definition: an evolving extension of the World Wide Web in which the meaning of information and services on the web is defined. When confronted with that, my brain flees to the comforting world of comics and to comfort from Sidney Harris. Thus calmed, it might be able to cope with video of someone far more semantically sage than I am: so I append a video of Tim Berner-Lee to this post.
For a concrete example, consider the word free. The languages and tools of Web 2.0 (or whatever number we’re up to now) are blind to the distinction between ‘zero price’ (gratis) and ‘freedom’ (libre). So the web itself cannot resolve the ambiguity.
The semantic web is the miracle that occurs between using the word free and having the web understand it. It’s the miraculous (to me) thing in some future cloud that enables me to write, without laborious distinction-drawing, one post about WordPress being free because it costs me no money to blog using it, and another about WordPress being free because I have the right to read, modify and distribute the source code.
One of the things I can do while waiting for the semantic web is to tag my posts. For example, when I’m writing about WordPress as free software (free as in freedom, free as in libre, etc.) I can use the tag opensource. Yes, I am aware of the argument that “Open Source” misses the point of Free Software. But opensource is effective because people looking for blog posts or other web content on free software may well, however grudgingly, search for the term/tag.
When it comes to the other sense of free (as in beer, as in gratis), I wish there was a tag likely to be as effective. I would welcome suggestions for a tag to indicate that I’m posting about free in this sense. And no, I’m not offering a cash prize for the best suggestion.
Now, to top off the tasty multimedia semantic sandwich, here’s Sir Tim.