Learn to love the Übernode

Valentin Zacharias writes how his vision of the Semantic Web changed:

I always tend to think of the Semantic Web as a web of personal homepages where everyone annotates his stuff. […]

But actually I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees (not seeing the Semantic Web for the data?): Why do the semantic web notes need to be so small, if this causes inconvenience? Why not have one large node for pictures (or five for that matter), two for events, ten for reviews … ? […]

Large database driven website may eventually become their own node in the Semantic Web. Everyone else (who’s currently using some simple shared web hosting or does not yet have a web presence) will not host their own Semantic Web data, but put their data on a few Semantic Web Ãœbernodes.

He’s right. Here’s something I realized when I built the FOAF crawler for our Google Base upload experiment: Most RDF geeks hand-craft their FOAF files, or use RDF tools like the FOAF-a-matic or FoafMe. There seem to be around 500 of these profiles out there in the vast wilderness of the WWW. Then, there are two million FOAF profiles created automatically by LiveJournal for their users. Five hundred! Two million!

RDF information published by individual hackers is important in this early phase of RDF adoption, but will be irrelevant in the big picture.

This is not really different from how the web works. The vast majority of people who publish on the web do so through large sites, like blogger.com, Typepad, Livejournal, Flickr, Wikipedia and special interest discussion forums.

To me, the Semantic Web is not so much about decentralization as about integration. If your information is published or described as RDF, then it won’t really matter where it is hosted, just as it doesn’t really matter if your RSS feed is published from your vanity domain or out of an anonymous blogger.com account.

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