For the last ten thousand years or so, people have been developing and deploying information management technologies. The ancient technique of using physical objects to store knowledge, writing, is perhaps the most important one. The use of writing is often considered the essential characteristic of civilization. A second, more subtle technology is the practice of rational argument, or logic, which is perhaps the most crucial element of a democractic society. These two early communication techniques represent two fields of invention which continue into modern information systems: the externalization of memory and processing.
For the last ten years or so, people have been developing and deploying web clients and servers, building the web into one of the largest and most complex information systems ever built. The web has been thoroughly successful, yet it is plagued with problems and falls far short of its promise.
Over the years, the W3C has been addressing these issues. In focusing on censorship, search quality, ..., the area of metadata, and the general structure of data was addressed. But this general structure of data is much more useful than for just labeling web pages.
Semantic Web technology offers to address some of these areas. With an eye on the larger history, we can perhaps see how the Semantic Web will fit into human society, and which component technologies need to be developed first.
This is pretty nice, but too simple for the real world, where (1) the world keeps changing, (2) some providers want to keep their information secret from some users (privacy), (3) some users want to ignore some providers (belief), (4) the shared memory and inference engines must be distributed (scaling).
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