Semantic Web is great, but I want to DO STUFF

In my "Web 1.0" days the first software company I founded, Moai Technologies, supported many of the major "online marketplaces" of the late 90’s.  One of my colleagues in the early days of Moai who helped develop our sales and marketing strategies was Stephen Bove.  Stephen ended up becoming part of the founding team at Chemdex, a leading chemicals marketplace.  I remember brainstorming w/ Stephen about the challenges at Chemdex and what he and the team there felt were some of the key issues for online marketplaces.  Perhaps the biggest common theme that applied to all of our marketplace customers was the creation of good ontologies – creating hierarchies to classify, categorize, and organize information.

I was reminded of this by Alex Iskold’s excellent post on the Structured Web.  It really feels like a decade later we are largely struggling with the same core problems.  Brad Feld posted about Alex and Adaptive Blue in this post with links to more semantic web reading.

This is good stuff, but I think a lot of technologists get caught up in the theory of all of this and forget about the fact that what people really want is to DO STUFF.  Alex clearly understands this based on what he’s doing with AdaptiveBlue – using this type of information to help people find specific pieces of information based on context of what they are looking at and doing.  While elegant theoretical constructs for all this stuff are great, I think a key to success is developing these technologies with a perspective of the types of things users and developers will actually want to do with all that information in real-world scenarios.

We’ve learned a lot of those lessons while developing ClearContext IMS over the past few years.  A lot of the "coolest" stuff we’ve developed is related to our contact and message analysis and prioritization algorithms that mine email history to rank which contacts and emails are most important to you.  However, that information only becomes really useful to users once we put it in the context of actually being able to DO SOMETHING with it – in the case of email that means creating tasks and appointments from important emails and being able to link and view all this related information together.

I definitely agree with Alex and others about the powerful possibilities of a web built upon an underlying foundation of structured information.  But without keeping in mind what people will want to do and why this is so valuable, there’s a real risk of creating some beautiful standards that largely get ignored.

PS to Alex: I suggest you check out this 2004 Santa Rita ($14.99) and this  2004 Seventy Five ($18.99)

One Response to “Semantic Web is great, but I want to DO STUFF”

  1. Alex Iskold says:

    Thanks for the wine tips! Will definitely look it up :)