Google has finally digested the acquisition of Metaweb and has radically enhanced its search results by utilizing what Google calls The Knowledge Graph. When searching on Google now, search terms are refined into more specific versions of the meaning: Did you mean Java the island? Or Java the programming language? To me this is one of the most powerful things of the Google Knowledge Graph.
What it also does is pull out facts about the topics you’re searching for. An example used in their promo video is reading facts about Leonardo DaVinci. Or another example used is “How many Nobel Prize winners were female?”. In my mind, these examples strike at the heart of something that has always been bothering me about the Semantic Web.
The Semantic Web
The Semantic Web is the vision that all knowledge is stored into a structured form and consumable by computers. This idea has been around for a long time, but most of the execution so far has been limited. Also, the open standards like RDF and OWL have never really taken off beyond the academic world. I personally don’t think they ever will, because they are incredibly unpractical and centered around a “Web of Documents”.
Even though I greatly respect the technology behind the Knowledge Graph (I have been a fan of Freebase for years, and have deep respect for their platform) – I still think there is a fundamental part of the equation missing. It’s something that Google often fails to get right: Human Interaction.
There is a sea change happening in the Web and how we use it. Itʼs an evolution to a second phase of the Web – the real-time Web, or what I call “the Stream.” In the Stream, the focus is on messages not Web pages. These vast amounts of messages are generated by social interaction, by conversation, by attention, by ideas, by little chunks of thought unleashed into a gigantic stream of data.
Thanks to the Stream the amount of knowledge is exploding. There is a long tail of knowledge around every imaginable topic and our attention is spreading across it every thinly. In the long tail of knowledge one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Knowledge that has previously been at the head of the long tail is now becoming obsolete knowledge – or “Obsoledge” – ever faster.
Who really wants to know what percentage of Nobel Prize winners were female? Or when do I ever want to figure out the birth date of some dead dude? These geeky factoids are becoming increasingly irrelevant. So where does the knowledge in Google’s Knowledge Graph come from? Does it come from geeks that are eager entering facts? Or does it come from corporate curated databases?
We need to be able to harness the Stream in order to query the long tail of knowledge. What is going on right now around Leonardo DaVinci? Is anyone recreating his cool flying devices? Can I buy them? Who won a Nobel Prize but shouldn’t have? Any pictures of the after party? Are there any new “prizes” that compete with the Nobel Prize?
To succeed in making the Knowledge Graph or Semantic Web usable for ordinary mortals, we have to drop the notion of a perfectly modeled graph of knowledge. We need to start looking at the Social Graph and start listening to the gigantic Stream of human activity. This means finding new ways of utilizing social activity data to generate meaning, liberating data from their data silos, providing more structure and open standards around social data interchange, etc.
We need a web in which the Stream is more meaningful, a web in which information finds you, a web in which data flows based on attention and intent, a web in which our thoughts are interconnected like neurons in a brain.
We don’t need a Semantic Web.
We need a Synaptic Web.