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April 16, 2008

The Semantic Arms Race: Facebook vs. Google

As I discussed in Over $100m in 12 months backs natural language for the semantic web, Radar Networks’ Twine is one of the more interesting semantic web startups.  Their founder, Nova Spivak, is funded by Vulcan and others to provide “interest-driven [social] networking”.  I’ve been participating in the beta program at modest bandwidth for a while.  Generally, Nova’s statements about where they are and where they are going are fully supported by what I have experienced.  There are obvious weaknesses that they are improving.  Overall, the strategy of gradually bootstrapping functionality and content by controlling the ramp up in users from a clearly alpha stage implementation to what is still not quite beta (in my view) seems perfect. 

Recently, Nova recorded a few minute video in which he makes three short-term predictions:More...

  1. Yahoo’s indexing of RDF will start the Semantic Web 3.0 arms race involving Google and Microsoft.
  2. The web will transition from pages to linked data. 
  3. Facebook “has to compete” with Google.

Nova was a little on the spot in the video.  Personally, I liked his “the web becomes a database” comment more than the Berners-Lee reiteration of linked data.  The notion of the entire web being a database is the right perspective on the semantic web (i.e., RDF), in my view.  Linked data is boring (try the Tabulator if linked data excites you.)  The action (and opportunity) is doing something with it!  When asked about ten years out, Nova displayed more of his deep insight and vision, however.  (See below.)  The truth is, beyond his first one, Nova was a little on the spot.  (See for yourself in the video.)

I love the pithy #3 that he decided to throw in there.  He did not invent that on the spot but found his legs just before being asked about longer term vision.   It makes sense, of course.  Google’s attacking with Open Social (so is the rest of the world including all the bookmarkers and even Nova’s Twine).  Facebook has to shift direction and the only target big enough given its size is search and advertising.

In his longer term vision he mentions the intelligent web that reasons and helps make decisions.  

This is where the battleground is for artificial intelligence and Semantic Web 4.0 (his term for the 4th decade of the web starting circa 2020).

Personally, I think natural language should have been in his first three.  Powerset will demonstrate that and all the action around Reuter/Clearforest/Calais (which he mentions and expects Google to compete with) indicate that natural language is critical to populating the semantic web (of course we have the database approach of DBpedia and Freebase, too).  In general, people are not going tag sentences or paragraphs.  Machines will.  The only RDF people are going to add are meta-tags at the page level for search engine optimization given Yahoo’s move (and the expected response from Google that Nova mentions.)

Certainly, natural language understanding is a prerequisite for the Semantic Web 4.0.  We will be talking more and typing less long before then.

Learning from the Future with Nova Spivack from Maarten on Vimeo.

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