Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Semantic Web or Romantic Dream?

First, if you haven't done so, watch this excellent short film by Kate Ray, which looks at the concept of the semantic web and interviews leading thinkers in the field such as Tim Berners-Lee, Clay Shirky, etc:
The skeptics section really struck a chord for me in this way: is the idea of a semantic web even possible without the benefactors of it (people) giving up a ton of privacy control? Facebook's recent highly controversial privacy policy changes can be viewed as an early but misguided attempt to harness some of the ideas of a semantic web. At least some of their aim, beyond the primary one of making more money, was probably to deliver a more personalized experience to their users by mining their habits and likes (via targeted ads, etc.). Will successful tools arise from this idea that don't either start or develop into commercial, for-profit undertakings? And if not, then do we really expect semantic web tools to actually understand our wants and needs on the fly, without having and sharing those habits with others?

I guess the next question that arises from this is, and to me the one that most closely associates with my own interests and the profession of librarians: do people have anywhere near the information and privacy literacy skills to understand these issues and the possible consequences of not paying attention to the security and privacy of their own information and information habits? Do they even have the skills necessary today? I would argue no, and that for any kind of significant semantic web concept to succeed, that literacy piece needs to be addressed in a serious way.

What say you?

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