There is a contradiction. The dream of the Semantic Web is beautiful, but few people are willing to realize it initiatively. The reason is primarily due to the pitiful nature of the selfishness of mankind; we prefer to enjoy contributions from others rather than contributing to others in the first hand. Some pessimistic ones of us, such as Stephen Downs and Mor Naaman, had even sentenced the Semantic Web to death due to this reason. Others of us, however, also cannot avoid but only try to solve this contradiction, actively and optimistically.

Since it is impossible to beat the nature of selfishness, we have to follow it. In other words, the success of realizing the Semantic Web relies on whether we can persuade normal users into believing that they are contributing primarily to themselves. When the World Wide Web was originally invented, a web page was primarily a self-show; it satisfied the nature of selfishness. When the Web evolved to be 2.0, a blog was primarily a self-centric node that linked a social network for the owners; again it satisfied the nature of selfishness. The Semantic Web, however, is normally advocated as an unselfish network.

The selfishness of the Web

Web users annotate Web content to primarily benefit OTHERS. Pitifully, this is an unrealizable dream that has failed since the time of Eden. In order to realize the dream of the Semantic Web, we must turn this thought around to the opposite direction — users add semantics to Web content and they, themselves, are the first ones who benefit from their contributions. This is the key to realizing the Semantic Web.

The World Wide Web is evolving, becoming more and more active. Web 1.0 was fairly stationary. The selfishness was represented as self-posters — homepages. Web 2.0 has become more active. The selfishness is represented as passive, self-centric network — blogs with passive comments. The future Semantic Web will be more active, and indeed I predict it will be proactive. Bloggers are not going to be satisfied with waiting for passive comments, which seems to be hopeless for most of them. Bloggers want to proactively extend their self-centric social network. This is a new level of satisfying the nature of selfishness; and this is the key to initiating the Semantic Web.

Educating a virtual child

I have a daughter. I educate her every day. In return, she tells me what she learns everyday by applying her learned knowledge from me. From time to time, she even tells me many things that I have no difficulty knowing but unfortunately missed due to my lack of time to explore by myself. I enjoy being with her, not only because she is my daughter, but also because she becomes my little source of knowledge, which, however, is educated by myself.

This previous scenario is normal probably in everyone's lives. In fact, this process of education is no different from the process of adding semantics to the Web, if only we imagine a machine agent (i.e. virtual child) sitting behind the screen of computer. Nevertheless, this education process can be kept in our real life primarily due to the belief that our children can give feedback to our efforts of education. Are there many people who are willing to tirelessly educate children with congenital diseases in their brains, even if these children are their own kids? Pitifully, not many because we often lose due to the nature of selfishness — a type of lack of love. We can treat these poor children well with their food and living conditions, but not hopelessly educate them; few people have such great and unselfish love as Ms. Sullivan.


Certainly we cannot expect more on educating stationary virtual children (machines) if we often fail to educate real children when they are inactive. This is thus the most crucial point of initiating the Semantic Web. These added semantics must be able to be applied immediately so that users can see the benefits. Among all the possible actions, Web search is the most demonstrating one. If only users could watch machines bringing back more semantically related content based on their education, they would have the momentum to continue the process of education. This is the positive cycle of constructing the pragmatic Semantic Web.

Based on this sense, isn't the Semantic Web also a search Web? Certainly, it is!

About the author

Yihong Ding

I'm currently a Ph.D candidate in Brigham Young University with Prof. David W. Embley in Computer Science Department, Prof. Deryle W. Lonsdale in Linguistic Department, and Prof. Stephen W. Liddle in Marriott School of Management.

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