It’s just data

Syllogism

Clay Shirky: it turns out that people can share data without having to share a worldview, so we got the meta-data without needing the ontology

Two parts brilliance, one part strawman.  Pity, actually, as I am sympathetic with the point that Clay is trying to make.


RE: Syllogism

Someone should frame this statement


There is a list of technologies that are actually political philosophy masquerading as code, a list that includes Xanadu, Freenet, and now the Semantic Web.

Some of his arguments are strawman arguments but not enough of them are that it takes away from the fundamental insightfulness of the piece.

Message from Dare Obasanjo at


I agree with you Sam. I thought it was very interesting reading, and carefully thought out, with some good arguments. However, the article starts with: what is the Semantic web. Well, it's this stuff, syllogistic logic and ontologies, neither of which fits the real world. But then, the article ends with, well, whatever it is, its coming, but it won't be using a global ontology. A conclusion that isn't supported by his argument about syllogistic logic failing because the web doesn't break cleanly into assertions.

(BTW, I didn't think anyone was pushing for an upfront global ontology -- just that we all use the same model so when we find data that could work together, it does so without any other intervention.)

Interesing reading, though.

Posted by Shelley at

I note the emphasis is on the lofty "high end" of the semantic web, rather than the more practical relational model of RDF and its ability to integrate decentralized data models.  Sometimes one gets lumped with the other -- like babies and bathwater.

Posted by Ken MacLeod at

I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but he doesn't seem to understand syllogisms. He says:


  - US citizens are people
  - The First Amendment covers the rights of US citizens
  - Nike is protected by the First Amendment

You could conclude from this that Nike is a person, and of course you would be right.

But you wouldn't. You'd be very wrong. In a symbolic manner this is:

US Citizen => Person
US Citizen => Covered by First Amendment
Nike => Covered by First Amendment

Where '=>' means implies. To make his conclusion he would have to reverse the second statement. I think that you'd have to say something like 'The First Amendment only covers the rights of US citizens'

His Vampire example contains a similar error.

At the very least this hows that these things are easy to get wrong, backing up Cory Doctrow's argument. I'm sure I've probably made some mistake in this post as well.

Posted by Daniel at

"Much of the proposed value of the Semantic Web is coming, but it is not coming because of the Semantic Web. The amount of meta-data we generate is increasing dramatically, and it is being exposed for consumption by machines as well as, or instead of, people. But it is being designed a bit at a time, out of self-interest and without regard for global ontology."

This is probably the most egregious of all the statements he makes.

The Semantic Web absolutely allows development "a bit at a time, out of self-interest and without regard for global ontology" but it also allows cosensus building, altruistism and creating global ontologies.

To quote TBL: "Its the integration, stupid!"

Posted by Andrew Newman at

Shirky's Men of Straw

Ok, the long answer: Shirky: The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview The opening paragraphs of this piece ask what the...... [more]

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I reckon you hit the nail on the head Sam - "strawman", except I'd say it's more like 3/3 parts.

Posted by Danny at

Semantic Web

The Semantic Web, with its neat ontologies and its syllogistic logic, is a nice vision. However, like many visions that...... [more]

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fyi, some comments from Dan Brickley on Shirky's opus:

http://66.70.191.189/cgi-bin/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=2016

Posted by Danny at

Sam, your "strawman" link is broken.

Posted by Mark at

Deconstructing The Syllogistic Shirky

Clay Shirky published a paper titled, The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview and made some interesting arguments. However, overall, I must agree with Sam Ruby's assessment: Two parts brilliance, one part strawman. First, Clay makes a point that syllogistic logic, upon which hopes for the Semantic Web are based, requires context and therein lies the dragons. He uses an example the following syllogism: - The creator of shirky.com lives in Brooklyn - People who live in Brooklyn speak with a Brooklyn accent From this, we're to infer that Clay, who lives in Brooklyn, speaks with a Brooklyn accent. Putting this into proper syllogistic form: People who live in Brooklyn speak with a Brooklyn accent The creator of shirky.com lives in Brooklyn Therefore, the creator of shirky.com speaks with a Brooklyn accent Leaving off issues of qualifiers (such as all or some) , the point Clay makes is that context is required to understand the truth behind the generalization made with people living in Brooklyn and speaking with an accent: Any requirement that a given statement be cross-checked against a library of context-giving statements, which would have still further context, would doom the system to death by scale. Clay believes that...... [more]

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Thanks, Mark - fixed!

Posted by Sam Ruby at

[Off Topic] Sam, re. trackback - I'm curious how the different pings are handled differently. Shelley's got a long quote, libraryplanet's URI gets incorporated. How's it operating?

Posted by Danny at

Problems with Semantic Web, RDF

So I've been having trouble realizing RDF dreams. Then this link orgy landed on my doorstep from the likes of none other than D.W. ... Clay Shirky on RDF, Sematic Web: "Each of those statements is true, in other words, but each is true in a different way. It is tempting to note that the second statement is a generalization that can only be understood in context, but that way madness lies. Any requirement that a given statement be cross-checked against a library of context-giving statements, which would have still further context, would doom the system to death by scale."...... [more]

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Remedial logic for professors

Send this guy back to some undergraduate philosophy classes.... [more]

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Sam, there's no "e" in Shirky.

Posted by Dave Winer at

Dave, spelling corrections are best sent by email rather than entered into the permanent record. Asssuming the error is fixed, the context of the comment disappears. How romantic is that?

Posted by xian at

Sorry Sam, there's little brilliance or insight here, in the same way there was little brilliance or insight in Joel Spolsky's analysis of exceptions.  I much preferred the turtles all the way down angle - now there's insight. And he might want to revise the piece - there are bugs in his syllogisms.

In any case many of the people working on and speccing the semweb do understand the limitations. They include people that discovered  fundamental limitations with symoblic AI, going back to the late 70s; notably Pat Hayes and Drew McDermott. Google for "yale shooting match", "abductive inference", "frame problem". And if you're wondering they're still bothering, the answer is much the same reason programmers bother after they discover Turing completeness.

And this:

[[[
the Semantic Web imagines that completeness and correctness of data exposed on the web are the cardinal virtues, and that any amount of implementation complexity is acceptable in pursuit of those virtues.
]]]

is bunk imho. Never mind AI reborn, does he not have any idea how quickly "business logic" spreads through systems, strangles and kills them - that job one of a modern software engagement is keeping the codebase clean so the conditional logic doesn't get out of control? As for AI reborn, do read: http://www.aifb.uni-karlsruhe.de/~sst/is/WebOntologyLanguage/hayes.htm.

Posted by Bill de hOra at

Dave: fixed - thanks!

P.S.  Xian: I welcome and acknowledge public bug reports.

Posted by Sam Ruby at

Xian, my statement stands alone, and is still valid, even informative (but not normative), even after Sam made the fix. When the Semantic Web gets built, and if it considers me a trusted source, it will now have a rule for its knowledge base, and should Sam or someone else add an "e" to Clay's last name, no knowledge will be lost! It's so powerful, that even if one were to spell his last name as "Shierky" or "eShirkeeyee" the Semantic Web would be route around the spelling error.

Now, a robot might wonder why you didn't send your complaint via email. In fact, you don't have to be a robot to wonder.

Have a great day.

Posted by Dave Winer at

Semantic web systemantics

Yesterday, I mentioned and briefly commented on Clay Shirky's The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview. Since then, a number of good critiques of Clay's piece have been posted. These include:... [more]

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Problems with Semantic Web, RDF

So I've been having trouble realizing RDF dreams. Then this link orgy landed on my doorstep from the likes of none other than D.W. ... Clay Shirky on RDF, Sematic Web: "Each of those statements is true, in other words, but each is true in a...

Excerpt from Everything Jeremiah at

Totality

By the time I finish writing this, the last sliver of silver on the very right edge of the moon's increasingly ruddy face will have been consumed by shadow.  It's a cold, perfectly clear night in New England - so crisp you can almost hear the...

Excerpt from Glen Daniels at

Sam, point taken. Dave, good one. Always liked Sam & Dave. Let the robots wonder about that!

Posted by xian at

Whats interesting is that, Clay's document is not about whether the semantic web is possible or not. It is about who gets the credit for it. After 10 yrs, Tim berners lee and w3c will get all the credit. But Clays article indirectly says the credit should go to the 100s of thousands of ppl that do the stuff on the web.

Posted by Anoyn at

Shirky on SemWeb, a Case Study

Shirky: The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview Clay Shirky boldly takes on the Semantic Web Activity. Lots of people, upon first reading Tim Berners-Lee's vision find it implausible or overly... [more]

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XML vs. RDF :: N × M vs. N + M

Or, Questioning Why People Can Only See the Semantic Web AI Strawman Clay Shirky criticizes the Semantic Web in his article, The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview, to which Sam Ruby accurately assesses, "Two parts brilliance, one part...

Excerpt from Ken MacLeod at

RDF, The Semantic Web and Perpetual Motion Machines

Ken MacLeod writes Clay Shirky criticizes the Semantic Web in his article, The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview, to which Sam Ruby accurately assesses, "Two parts brilliance, one part strawman." Joe Gregorio responds to Shirky's piece with ...

Pingback from Dare Obasanjo aka Carnage4Life - RDF, The Semantic Web and Perpetual Motion Machines

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I agree with Mr. Obasanjo and, by serendipity, ran across a bookmark to "The Well-Formed Web" piece.  I would go a little further, and suggest that plenty of people who are "pissing on" SemWeb have, in fact, developed alternatives.

Now me??  I haven't developed squat, so would be among those throwing tomatoes from the peanuts gallery.  I have, OTOH, a long-ingrained, and very deep, skepticism and suspicion of both snake-oil salesmen and pseudo-Shamans.. both variations of the same personality being in abundance on the Net.  Because people can be near-100% right on-target one time, and pert-near the opposite the next.

For example, until last night I consistently read the first post in this thread as "Somebody should RE-frame this statement"!  Nonetheless, I will do so by saying that there is also code masquerading as politics, and code and Religion masquerading as each other, and (obviously?) code and power are also inextricably linked in this web, likewise.

I dislike singling out any individual like The Philosopher Xian, but I could have dissected his comment (http://66.70.191.189/cgi-bin/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=2016) word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence the way Dave Winer did above.  (And glad to see Xian has some sense of humor about it all.)

Similarly, I've seen many, Many, Many comments along the lines of these by Mr. Ayers and Mr. Steer:
http://dannyayers.com/archives/002017.html

_"Now GIGO is an issue for the semantic web. If the web has proved anything it is that people spout garbage, and we need to mitigate that."_

I wish I could find a better way to pushback against this kind of suggestion without quoting (imo) an erroneous view, but I'm lazy or exhausted or this is quickest way to illustrate a point or whatever. 

No, a computer is not a good tool to "mitigate" people spouting (imo) garbage like the above.

The next sentence is (imo) worse: _"Here FOAF provides a useful example: people say things about other people, and those might be defamitory, misleading, whatever."_

And no computer programmer in the world, afaik, is going to be able to develop a program that prevents people from being people, nor is there a need for such a program if it Could be written.

However, my main pushback against FOAF is not technical, btw.  It is that FOAF automates the institution of "the good-ole-boy network".  It's all about who you know, and now you don't even need to know the person!  You know a few data elements about someone, exchange a couple e's, and automagically you become known!!  Ain't this the best thing since whorled peas!!!

I think not.

One of the most interesting comments I've seen is from Mr. Bray, who has navigated the treacherous waters between academia and business much better than I.

However, this post may be too long for a comment already.

Posted by JayT at

Mr. Ruby,

This is OT, but I find myself here.  Your name, and that of Mr. John Patrick, came up over at the Scobleizer as being the only two IBM'rs known to blog.  Dunno if it's so, but for all the claims of Blogaria being so much better at distributing quality info than mainstream journalism, I am skeptical.

Don't know if you heard of ECLipz.. not the one in the sky last night, but over yonder:
http://www.cbronline.com/research_centres/001474fdd63170d780256dd50037859a

Very oddly, this same article was never distributed to the 400 community, afaik, until last week along with a follow-up this evening:
http://www.midrangeserver.com/tfh/tfh111003-story01.html

Perhaps you are familiar with this, but in my experience most people within IBM do not want this info to get around within IBM, let alone to anyone else.  I believe it's because there are so few IBM'rs blogging, but don't know.

You may also be interested in my blog-without-blogging here:
http://archive.midrange.com/isn-citizens/200311/msg00002.html

I would also be very interested to know if anyone in IBM is seriously discussing "World dominance".  People in the Linux community, from what I've read many times in press and blogs and such, have stated this as a goal.  Although I have heard Mr. Haines (known as "the heart and soul of the 400") say he "wants the 400 to get it's fair share of the market.. 100%!!".  He's in marketing, and I believe is quite realistic about the possibility of that ever actually happening!

Just wondering, as I prepare to go back under the rock I crawled outta...;-)  Wanted to get over to Don's place, but that ain't gonna happen.

Posted by JayT at

(Should-a been more specific:  I'd intended, first thing this morn, to get over to Don Park's to discuss landscapes, but alas...)

This interview "bugged" me a bit:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3131562.stm

"GD: If you had an entire web that worked on this principle, you could have a digital organism that had a phenomenal amount of information"

We already have this and it doesn't scare me.

"and you have written that you're moving more in the direction then of an internet that can reason."

Some day, perhaps, depending on how one defines "reason".

"TBL: Computers will become so powerful and there will be so many of them with so much storage that they will in fact be more powerful or as powerful as a brain and will be able to write a program which is a big brain."

We have had computers that are computationally more powerful than a brain.  The brain has a biochemical engine, which is pitifully slow when compared to the speed of light.

"And I think philosophically you can argue about it and spiritually you can argue about it, and I think in fact that may be true that you can make something as powerful as the brain,"

Already a done deal.

"really whether you can make the algorithms to make it work like a brain is something else.

But that is a long way off and in fact that's not very meaningful for now at all. All I'm looking for now is just interoperability for data."

Can't agree more.

I've not read all that much of Mr. Berners-Lee, but his reputation preceeds him.  I've read a bit of Mr. Bray's and find myself agreeing with most-all.  But for occasional small examples:
http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/Biz
"And yet, and yet, and yet; business is often a filthy practice. It encourages both vile venial and monstrous mortal sin. Most people who are successful CEOs are just not people you'd want to spend time with."

The few CEOs and execs I've known, from $10M to $2B, to a "man" have been pretty nice "guys" but maybe I'm just lucky or maybe it's because I've always lived in the MidWest or maybe I've almost always been involved in family-run companies.  (The latter, btw, went to my wedding, as my ex-Wife and I met at the workplace.)  Otherwise I agree with the piece.

Wrt Mr. Bray's post today:
http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2003/11/09/SemWebFirstStep
"So in the big picture, I think that (a) just because something hasn’t worked so far doesn’t mean it will go on not working, and (b) betting against Tim Berners-Lee is something that ought to make you feel nervous."

Again, I agree.

But, "if I was a betting man" which I'm not, I'd bet just about any amount of money (up to a box of donuts...;-) against Vannevar Bush:
http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/flashbks/computer/bushf.htm
"When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome. Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new path."

That was then, these days we have various flavors of RDB.

"The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association."

Anybody that believes the human mind works one way is an idiot.  It simultanously works in multiple (complementary/contradictory) ways.

"With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain."

I have very severe Sleep Apnea, and one of the symptoms is dreaming while not yet asleep.  I can't say I can describe the associations I see in these dreams, but I can say it's not by any process of a web of trails.  YMMV, of course.

"It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory."

OTOH, who has not experienced that trails that are frequently followed become habits, and are followed semi-consciously (at best).

"Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature."

Yep.

"Selection by association, rather than indexing, may yet be mechanized. One cannot hope thus to equal the speed and flexibility with which the mind follows an associative trail, but it should be possible to beat the mind decisively in regard to the permanence and clarity of the items resurrected from storage."

Prophetic, given the time.  Again computers surpass in speed by a long shot, but have some catch-up to do in flexibility.  And can "beat the mind decisively" (if one looks at it as a competition!) in regard to premanence, but that clarity issue is a whole 'nuther story at this point in the "game".

"He may perish in conflict before he learns to wield that record for his true good. Yet, in the application of science to the needs and desires of man, it would seem to be a singularly unfortunate stage at which to terminate the process, or to lose hope as to the outcome."

Can't agree more with conclusion, although some of the assumptions are blatantly false (imo).

Back to Mr. Bray's post, I'm also interested in metadata, and agree that XBRL is a no-brainer for reasons given.

But I cannot possibly agree more with this conclusion also:

"When what you’re doing feels like shooting fish in a barrel, you ought to be worried that things aren’t as simple as you think they are."

And I've grown weary of being the fish.  Mr. Shiky has had years of practice at this kind-a stuff, but wonder if he feels somewhat likewise.

Since I'm way past done writing for tonight, (and very possibly for a long while, tho things change and, in fact, will), was going to post this and comments over at Joseph Duemmer's, but ain't since didn't get change to read post:
http://rw.blogspot.com/2003_05_01_rw_archive.html#200339633

If I understand RageBoy correctly (and that's cause for some alarm right there...;-)
http://www.rageboy.com/2003_11_02_blogger-archive.html#106819832802730520
Phylogeny recapitulates Ontology recapitulates Psychology.

But RageBoy wasn't as original as I'd thought, in research which recapitulated to which found:
http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JITE/v37n4/schultz.html
Imo, simply fascinating with, afaik, a lot of application to this very discussion.

and only started to skim Kipling:

http://www.boop.org/jan/justso/letter.htm

If any read this far, thank you for your patience.  Sorry, no time to proof.

Posted by JayT at

Geez Louise...!  Talk about "Golbyesque" in length, if not quality.

But wanted to add that I regret saying anything about snake-oil salesman, because somebody is likely to infer I'm referring to them when I'm not.  Least of which would be Mr. Berners-Lee and Mr. Bray with whom I expressed disagreements above.

Now RageBoy...;-)... 

Anyhoo, sheesh and goodNITE...

Posted by JayT at

JayT: Apologies for being unclear. What I intended to say was that we need to mitigate the effects of people saying false, defamatory (whatever) things. I see you read it as a call for computers acting as global censors - interesting concept for a sci-fi novel, but perhaps unrealistic :-)

Now in many foaf systems this is simply done by tracking who said what, and us fleshbags can make our own decisions based on the provenance of assertions. Perhaps computers could help, though I doubt very much that they could do all the work - mine's so dumb it thinks 'colour' is a misspelling, despite my assurances to the contrary, and that doesn't inspire confidence.

It's still garbage in, garbage out, but perhaps we can get to a stage where the I tell the computer a source tends to spout stupidty, and it will warn me not to trust its conclusions based on that source.

Posted by Damian Steer at

shirky touches off a storm of semantic web posts

Clay’s latest essay, The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview, has touched of quite the flurry of interesting responses. Mark Pilgrim has a number of these responses collected in his “B-Links” sidebar, but I’m going to put them here, as well, so that I can find them more easily in the future. Shelley Powers’ Deconstructing the Syllogistic Shirky Ken MacLeod’s XML vs. RDF :: N × M vs. N + M (Or, Questioning Why People Can Only See the Semantic Web AI Strawman) Dare Obasanjo’s The Semantic Web and Perpetual Motion Machines Sam Ruby’s Syllogism (particularly the comments thread) and Blind...... [more]

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Mama Musings - Collection rebuttals to Clay Shirky's Anti-Semantic Web piece

(SOURCE: mamamusings: shirky touches off a storm of semantic web posts )- Nice collection of the discussion on Clay Shirky's Anti-Semantic Web post.... [more]

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Mama Musings - Collection of rebuttals to Clay Shirky's Anti-Semantic Web piece

(SOURCE:mamamusings: shirky touches off a storm of semantic web posts)- Nice collection of the discussion on Clay Shirky's Anti-Semantic Web post. QUOTE Mark Pilgrim has a number of these responses collected in his “B-Links” sidebar, but...

Excerpt from Roland Tanglao: HowToDevelopSoftware at

Shirky on the semantic Web and what it will and won't be good for. Commentary here, here and here....... [more]

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Questions et débat sur le web sémantique

Le web sémantique est sûrement une des idées les plus prometteuses du moment mais aussi certainement la plus controversée. Et avec lui, ce sont les technologies crées pour lui par le W3C qui sont critiquées : RDF et OWL notamment.

Clay Shirky, a publi...

... [more]

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Questions et débat sur le web sémantique

Le web sémantique est sûrement une des idées les plus prometteuses du moment mais aussi certainement la plus controversée. Et avec lui, ce sont les technologies crées pour lui par le W3C qui sont critiquées : RDF et OWL notamment.

Clay Shirky, a publi...

... [more]

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XML vs. RDF :: N × M vs. N + M

Reponses to Clay Shirky's claim that the Semantic Web will happen with XML and RDF is unnecessary complexity. XMLvRDF by Ken Syllogism by Sam I Said It First by Joe Metadata, Semantics and All That by Tim Scripting News your SW...

Excerpt from iBLOGthere4iM at

Mama Musings - Collection of rebuttals to Clay Shirky's Anti-Semantic Web piece

(SOURCE:mamamusings: shirky touches off a storm of semantic web posts)- Nice collection of the discussion on Clay Shirky's Anti-Semantic Web post. QUOTE Mark Pilgrim has a number of these responses collected in his “B-Links” sidebar, but...

Excerpt from Roland Tanglao: KLogs at

... "Maybe I'm out of the loop, but I see nothing but successes from AI over the years.  AI researchers have been responsible for some geniunely useful algorithms, heuristics, design patterns, and architectures, many of which are best practices in the software industry. The problem is, AI doesn't get any credit for these advances, since they get gobbled up by the mainstream, as perhaps might happen with the Semantic Web." ...

Posted by Timothy Falconer at

ah well... we spoke out, we responded, but in doing so, we put shirky's post at #5 on google for "semantic web".  It's "above the fold" for press and investors to read.

Posted by Timothy Falconer at

Le web sémantique est sûrement une des idées les plus prometteuses du moment mais aussi certainement la plus controversée. Et avec lui, ce sont les technologies crées pour lui par le W3C qui sont critiquées : RDF et OWL notamment.

Posted by Nick Danell at

Mama Musings - Collection of rebuttals to Clay Shirky's Anti-Semantic Web piece

(SOURCE:mamamusings: shirky touches off a storm of semantic web posts)- Nice collection of the discussion on Clay Shirky's Anti-Semantic Web post. QUOTE Mark Pilgrim has a number of these responses collected in his “B-Links” sidebar, but...

Excerpt from Roland Tanglao: XML at

False premises and hungry crocodiles

When technology pundit Clay Shirky wanted to attack the idea of the Semantic Web, he didn't do it the way Cory Doctorow did. Doctorow pointed out that "metadata", information about information, is created by fallable people, people who...

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Deconstructing the Syllogistic Shirky

Clay Shirky published a paper titled, The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview and made some interesting arguments. However, overall, I must agree with Sam Ruby’s assessment: Two parts brilliance, one part strawman. Particularly the strawman...

Excerpt from Bb RealTech at

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