A Giant Whooshing Sound

Did you hear that sound this week? The giant whooshing sound? There was a great disturbance in the Force, as if thousands of Semantic Web academics, implementors and enthusiasts sighed in unison and their critics were silenced. I believe something wonderful has happened.

With apologies to Mr. Lucas, I don’t think that little bit of exaggerated whimsy is far from the truth.

First of all, just to be clear, I recognize that there isn’t a fully coherent view across all of these announcements, there is still plenty to criticize and plenty of work to do. However, in the nearly ten years I have been following Semantic Web-related topics, I can’t remember a week even remotely like this one.

What we are seeing is that the corner has been turned. The vision of a global Web of linked, structured data has been embraced. Following on the successes of the Linked Data project, activity by the U.S. and U.K. governments, large commercial retailers (e.g. Tesco and Best Buy with some remarkable results), publishers and, of course, major search firms (e.g. Google and Yahoo!), we now have a new round of participants.

DBTune has unveiled a new Western Classical Music data source. Some fun sample queries:

The World Bank has announced that it is opening up its development data. Not only is this a strong commitment to transparency by another global body, but it represents a dataset that could start to make a significant difference in people’s lives. By surfacing development data indicators in a public and reusable form, the attention of the world will hopefully follow.

This week in San Francisco, Drupal Con has been taking place. Among all of the other exciting developments surrounding the next major release of this world class content management system is a firm embracing of RDF and RDFa.

Not entirely related by still pretty cool. The White House (yes, that one) just released a bunch of important code back to the project.

The Chirp conference provided a lot of chatter, but one of the more interesting announcements was the support for structured annotations. This was heralded as an important step for metadata and that Twitter was embracing the Semantic Web. Who knew this was simply going to be one of many Big Deals this week?

Today, on the heels of Chirp, the F8 conference captured the World’s attention. Among the announcements, Facebook Connect is going away, Facebook data is going to be available as a graph, Microsoft and Facebook are collaborating to compete with Google Docs and Facebook is expanding the Semantic Web and Linked Data projects enormously. A truly Web-scale initiative of linked identities, content, events and relationships is about to unfold. When linked against existing sources like Freebase and DBPedia, we will have an unimaginably rich collection of machine-processable content about ourselves and the things that interest us. This has enormous implications when applied to social networking, e-commerce and where we go to find things.

What I find interesting about all of this are the differences in scope, topics, timeframes and communities involved in the collective announcement space. We have huge efforts and small datasets. We have commercially-viable and purely entertainment-oriented approaches.

We have organic growth, communities of interest and data models that will adapt and adopt the best of what emerges. All the things that made the Web what it is are making our Webs of Data great too.

Ben Adida summarized it the best, so far:

“[because] RDFa was architected with minimal centralization, anyone can create a vocabulary for it, anyone can use it and extend it without central approval, and that’s exactly what Yahoo, Google, and now Facebook did. They didn’t consult with the RDFa team. They didn’t have to. I consider that a great success: distributed innovation at work.

There will be work to do to reconcile the Yahoo, Google, and Facebook vocabularies. But that’s okay. RDFa lets you add as many vocabularies as you want, so you can easily combine the three vocabs for now to be maximally compatible. Over time, the tremendous power of the linked-data toolchain that forms the underpinning of RDFa will be brought to bear to progressively make the vocabularies compatible.

Exciting stuff for the structured-data Web!”

This is what those sighing Semantic Web types are seeing unfold. Hopefully you are now seeing it too.



Good posting!!