I’m attending the 2010 No Fluff Just Stuff conference in Reston, VA this weekend. One of the speakers is Brian Sletten, a self-proclaimed “Semantic Web Nerd,” who presented a really excellent RDFa session – and I’m not just saying that because he plugged our book on his “Recommended Reading” slide. To understand why his talk really struck a chord with me, I’ll provide some background.
For better or worse, I’ve been a bit of out of the Semantic Web world lately. I’m currently not working on any projects for which the Semantic Web is considered a critical technology. I’ve watched as many of the Semantic Web programs I had involvement in were scaled back or disappeared entirely as government funding dried up. It was hard to not feel like the Semantic Web was dying a slow death. What’s worse is that upon reflection, I found it hard to identify a program where the Semantic Web was truly a critical feature and not just an alternate implementation decision that could have just as easily been replaced with any number of traditional technology solutions. Maybe I was just jaded after working in the same technology area for 6 years, or maybe I was going through my own trough of disillusionment.
The keynote address at NFJS (by Venkat Subramaniam) spoke to the value of exposing yourself to many different programming languages, even if you only have one or two primary languages. The process of learning a new language trains you to think about programming in new ways. It introduces you to the various challenges that all languages face as well as the strategies that a particular language employs to address these issues. This is much the same with any technology. Learning about alternate ways to solve problems helps us become better problem solvers. And isn’t that the real goal? Along this line of thinking, best practices are the enemy of innovation and creativity because they create a safe little box in which we can live without having to go out into the unknown to explore. This got me to thinking about my career in the Semantic Web world. I’d been so focused on using the Semantic Web that I’ve neglected to learn about alternate technologies and the lessons they have to offer. I’ve stifled my problem solving skills by keeping too narrow a focus and failing to recognize the opportunities for hybrid solutions that leverage many technologies, not just Semantic Web.
Now, back to the point. Brian’s RDFa talk was excellent. It reintroduced me to all of the progress being made in achieving the Semantic Web. Big organizations are starting to adopt and leverage the Semantic Web via RDFa. IBM and Open Document Format. Drupal RDFa and CMS. The White House? MediaWiki. Creative Commons Licenses. Newsweek. Facebook – and Microsoft, IMDB, RottenTomatoes, Yelp, NHL!? Best Buy. Google!! Really. There are too many to list. Many of these sites you can go to now and view their source to find the RDFa. It’s happening.
All of this progress made me realize something. Beyond all of the hype and inflated expectations. Beyond the lost hope and naysayers. The industry is starting to adopt the Semantic Web for real. They are starting to see the real business case for open linked data. People are starting to find specific applications where the Semantic Web makes sense and might actually help. And, all of this leaves me with a renewed desire to find opportunities to apply technologies that complement and are complemented by Semantic Web technologies.