21.095 the Semantic Web and humanities computing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2007 08:14:52 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 95.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2007 07:27:01 +0100
         From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca>
         Subject: Re: 21.089 the Semantic Web and humanities computing

Many thanks for the response surrounding the "semantic web." I
think I need to
stage a small defense of my take on the semantic web versus the definition
stated on Wikipedia.

Mary Dee Harris wrote:

"I think Ryan has missed the point of the semantic web. While the
technologies he mentions could be used well in Humanities Computing,
I don't see any connection to the semantic web. It is a software
approach, not hardware. It would be more appropriate to think of it
as an extension of the existing markup languages, esp. XML, with a
lot of extra bells and whistles."

I think that hardware provides the environment for software to do its fancy
stuff. Thus, without innovations in hardware, the semantic web is not
possible. A good illustration of this is the connection between the mouse and
object-oriented programming. I would need a historian to clarify which
chicken came before what egg, but the semantic link between "an object" and the
"click and point" interfacing enabled by the mouse is fairly important. When
you have instruction based interfacing ala DOS or Unix, process (the stages of
actions) become important. When you interface by pointing at something, then
the items being manipulated become emphasized (thus object-oriented

Assuming the multi-touch screen works the way Microsoft dreams it does (I still
haven't seen it in action, nor have I seen much more than the ability to move
pictures around a screen), there are apt to be changes in the way we think
about our software. For one, the choosing of an object and the manipulation
of that object are simultaneous occurrences. An immediate impact would be on
something like AJAX, where interfacing would require the addition of rotations,
resizing, distortions etc. to make the data make the kind of sense that the
hardware is insisting it make.

There is no doubt that XML and other standards will facilitate the semantic web
but I would say the wikipedia article is largely unfinished (and likely being
"worked on" by people connected to data standards in ways that the layperson is
not -- there is a whole other discussion about this for another email, though).

I would make the analogy that http protocol makes the internet possible, but
http protocol is not the "web." The web does not exist unless there are
people using the protocol and connecting their servers to lines in ways that
make the web possible. In the same vein, I would say the semantic web is not
XML with bells and whistles, but masses of people using XML in ways to help
computers make connections that would have previously required awareness by a
human. Watching a computer recognize that an object sitting on it is a digital
camera is one example of this vision.

Ryan Deschamps
Received on Tue Jun 12 2007 - 03:24:46 EDT

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