timothy falconer's semantic weblog
Big Fractal Tangle

Openness & Interconnection

I decided to do this a month ago tonight. I was getting a reckless drive home along Sanibel streets to the Sundial, just coming from a talk-filled dinner with a dozen or so DERI folk, worried I wouldn’t have enough time to sleep and pack before returning to Pennsylvania the next morning, when I thought of it: Big Fractal Tangle would be the name of a blog.

Earlier that day, we’d all seen the Tim Berners-Lee keynote speech at the end of the five-day ISWC 2003, during which he said the phrase as an aside while describing the Semantic Web. I jotted it down immediately. Later while walking down the stairs to the lobby, I asked him if the phrase had a history. He said he probably used it just in that speech, though “I wrote a program called Tangle a long time ago that didn’t really go anywhere.” I asked if I could use the phrase as a title, and he said sure, “just put it in quotes.” He then went off to go swim in the Gulf of Mexico, not yet aware of the recent red tide, the “big fractal tangle” that had clogged the beach that day.

There’d been a paper brewing in my head, and I needed a title. Since the conference started, I’d had dozens of terrific conversations, many of them centered around the social implications of the Semantic Web. With each person I talked to, I became more and more convinced that we were witnessing the beginning of something quite new … something that had enormous potential to really change things.

The first Web broke down barriers. It brought us instant information, and started an irreversible trend towards universal openness. Gone were the gatekeepers that kept us all in ignorance. (Okay, so maybe there’s a few hundred million who voluntarily stay in ignorance, but at least now there’s a choice.)

A decade into the first Web, we’ve now got way too much information available, too much for any of us to sift through easily, which is why we need Round Two: the annotated, interconnected, Web. This new organic, evolving, maintainable, improvement will do more than simply increase the accuracy of our Google searches. It’ll help real people understand and visualize interconnection, which in my opinion will alter our society profoundly for the better.

This was to be the point of my paper. Driving home that night, my brain frazzled and my voice hoarse from too much talk, I realized the topic was too big for a single paper. It’ll have to be a blog.

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