There has been quite a number of blogs last week-end on Freebase and on Tim O’Reilly’s blog on it. His remark on the Semantic Web has led to a number of replies, too, eg, from Jim Hendler, Danny Ayers, Shelley Powers, Kingsley Idehen, Henry Story, and others that I may forget (sorry to those). The incriminated sentence that people referred to is: “But unlike the W3C approach to the semantic web, which starts with controlled ontologies, Metaweb adopts a folksonomy approach, in which people can add new categories (much like tags), in a messy sprawl of potentially overlapping assertions.”
It always strikes when people seems to equate the usage of W3C’s Semantic Web to some sort of a mythical, centrally managed and controlled ontology. As if the goal of W3C would be to become some sort of a Big Brother on the Web… I do not want to repeat all the arguments that have already been blogged (nothing in the ones cited about I would disagree with). Jim, among other things, already referred to the OWL FAQ; let me also refer to the SW FAQ (still a draft, but hopefully useful nevertheless). Some of these questions are addressed in both.
However, beyond what is said in those FAQ-s, let me also refer to SKOS here. Not yet a finished technology, true, but quite mature already (a new version should be published pretty soon, b.t.w.). It strikes me that SKOS may be a possible interesting technology to organize the tags that Freebase intends to use. It does not impose a strong logical structure like OWL, but gives a way of “structuring” the tags that might be very useful in, say, linking them to other tagging systems outside of Freebase. It is also possible to put it into a smart user interface. If I were active in the development of Freebase, I would certainly have a look. Just as Shelley puts it: “…In other words, MetaWeb could have used RDF to implement it’s functionality, and none of us would know and most people wouldn’t care. There is nothing in what the W3C has proposed that’s counter to anything MetaWeb hopes to achieve.” The same holds for SKOS!
Finally… What strikes me, re-reading Tim’s blog, is that the core of the article is an enthusiastic description of Freebase, which I have absolutely no problem with. That remark on W3C’s Semantic Web does not add anything to the article’s core message whatsoever. I just wonder why it was necessary to put that remark into the article in the first place… I really do not believe looking for confrontation at all costs and all the time is beneficial for the Web (whichever version we are talking about). But that may be only me…