timothy falconer's semantic weblog
Big Fractal Tangle

angela talk, day five

(continued imaginary conversation between Angela Tesoro and Timothy Falconer, now sitting in her board room with her financial advisors)

Angela: Everyone, this is Tim Falconer. He’s been helping me understand this Semantic Web stuff in the last few days. I’m now convinced there’s a need for the technology, but I still haven’t heard the most important part: will this make us money?

Timothy: I’m convinced it can, particularly given the ideas in the prospectus you gave me. Your startup company essentially wants to create a worldwide technical talent search system, like Monster.com, only decentralized. I showed you FOAF yesterday so you could see what this might look like.

Angela: So our startup could use FOAF?

Timothy: They could build on it, but the prospectus indicates they’d rather make their own specialized metadata vocabulary, or “ontology.” It’s actually not very difficult to make the ontology, or even the system that uses it. The tricky part, the risky part, is convincing lots of people to annotate their resumes using the new ontology. Until then, they’ll just have some nice useless software and no customers.

Angela: So they gotta get buy-in before it’ll take off. This sounds like the bad press we’ve been reading, that the Semantic Web’s a nice idea, but people won’t take to it, like the metric system in America.

Timothy: That’s certainly the elephant in the middle of the room, but I think you’ll have a much easier time achieving buy-in because you’re targeting a technical audience. Software and web developers are more likely to mark up their resumes with RDF. Given our still struggling technical economy, I think they’ll also be motatived to do it, particularly once they see it can give them an edge in finding work.

Angela: What about the real customers, the companies paying to use the search system. You run a software company. Would you pay for it?

Timothy: Absolutely. I’d love to use a system like this. With it, I’d be able to search for developers who have five or more years of Java experience, who understand object modeling, and design patterns, and refactoring, who have experience with particular technologies like EJB or Swing, who have a reasonable hourly rate, and who have experience working on their own. Being able to do a search like this would make my life much easier.

Angela: But how could you be sure they weren’t lying about their experience? What’s that thing you say, “Garbage In, Garbage Out”?

Timothy: Well, there’s an important piece of the Semantic Web puzzle that addresses that issue, the so-called “web of trust.” The idea is that people can vouch for the accuracy of other people’s metadata. This “trust” can be encoded in the system in a secure fashion, which means you can then do searches that only bring up trustworthy results.

Angela: But can’t the vouching people lie too?

Timothy: They could, but it wouldn’t matter. The measure of trust could be grounded by someone I already knew and trusted. Just like in real life, if I trust someone, who trusts someone, who trusts someone, I’m more likely to find a good worker. It’s the same as using personal recommendations, but it’s systematized, so it saves time. I think it’s a great idea.

Angela: Okay, well you’ve given us a lot to think about. Thanks again for your advice, and your patience. I’ll let you know if we decide to invest in this Semantic Web startup.

Timothy: It was my pleasure. Call anytime. Good luck!

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