Semantic Web Deep Dive

Jul 31, 2012

Or, actually:

Semantic Web Crash & Burn

I sent a very naïve open letter to a few key players in the semweb space a few years ago. I got no responses, and hence thought that either my question was posed incorrectly, or the field is so new no-one can really answer me, or the race is on to lay the groundwork and therefore there’s no time to get a newbie up to speed, or X. (I don’t know what X is yet.)

Fast-forward 3 years and I now have a project going which may or may not generate some valuable data soon. I want to store the data in a way that makes sense for humans and computers alike. I do not want to index everything, because being presented with a list of 10 close matches to what you want is so archaic. And since I’m a big fan of free PaaS hosting plans, the data needs to be stored very efficiently, and I should be able to operate on it every efficiently. Besides, your Big Data is big enough, so I should be OK.

Without further ado, I’ve dedicated my evening to a Deep Dive of everything semweb.

I love the web and I’m a web programmer. I also want to give meaning to my data, i.e. attach some sort of semantics. Roll on.


I started this post at 7 and now it’s 11. I got stuck on a handful of Wikipedia articles and W3C recommendations and working groups. It all reminded me of this XKCD on standards:

XKCD #927 (

After hours of randomly clicking and reading bits and pieces, I’ve managed to get a better overview of the state of semweb.

And then a funny thing happened

This is where I was supposed to write about it all, dissect it, make sense of it and summarise it.

I was going to give you a primer on simple terms like taxonomy, vocabulary and ontology. I was going to tell you how we’re still far away from data and still very much document-based, stuck in silos, and how traditional markup doesn’t cut it—how it does not describe what something means, how microformats is a web-based approach to semantic markup, and how this proliferation of formats can luckily be ground down into something coherent using GRDDL. Most importantly, I was going to tell you about knowledge representation using OWL and RDF, and the software tools to peruse said formats.

Then I realised: my brain is so crammed with 4 hours worth of reading all this stuff, that I need to find a way to do exactly that: a knowledge representation of what’s in my brain.

Then something in my head went snap.

I ended up on the floor in a spasmodic fit of hilarity, sucking my thumb. The confusion punctured my prefrontal cortex, and I now only speak to uppity wooden chairs. In reverse. My brain turned on itself in the most meta way possible. I had to stop.


I don’t want to duplicate any knowledge here, so there will be no summaries. But, I’ve seen the suffering, and will leave with you the following tips:

  • if you ever publish anything, and it’s not data, please annotate it for generations to come. The web is too noisy to scrape anything anymore and we’re too busy to build a spider to make sense of your mash of markup.
  • there are places where you can ask questions if you get stuck.
  • don’t silo your data or think it belongs to you especially if your users created it (here’s looking at you, Facebook). It should be free.
  • don’t break the web by creating user profiles and not annotating it with hCard at the very least. There’s also FOAF and XFN.
  • don’t expect silver bullets. There are smart people doing good things to take this movement forward, like (even though OC are too focused on companies/mergers news)
  • there’s too much standards documentation for me to consume right now. Process can scare the most optimistic of us away, but it seemed the folks at W3C managed to pull something wonderful together. I really do hope I can get through it all one day.
  • a few weeks after doing this 7-11 stint, I found a semweb on-line test, and memory served me well. I’ll consume you yet, semweb, just you wait.