Thoughts on the Semantic Web

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semanticwebIn “Philosophers Trim the Tree of Knowledge,” Darnton attempts to uncover Diderot’s true goals and reasoning in his reimagining of the tree of knowledge.

I then though about whether or not our current conception of knowledge is at all similar. The first thing that came to mind was the Semantic Web, which is a movement that aims to provide a common framework for structuring data in a way that makes it the most findable, usable, shareable, combinable, etc.

This concept, compared to Diderot’s classification in his tree of knowledge, is divergent in a couple of key ways:



  • Darnton claims that Diderot and d’Alembert “thought they could limit the domain of the knowable and pin down a modest variety of truth” (195). The Semantic Web is a direct reaction to the acceptance that the “domain of knowledge” cannot be limited, and that we can only hope to create the most benefit from the seemingly limitless information that we have (and which continues to proliferate at an unprecedented rate).
  • Diderot was able to cast himself, as one of the grand philosophes, in quite a prestigious light through his imagining of the tree of knowledge. He claimed that the history of man is “divided between the great nations and the great geniuses, between the kings and the men of letters, between the conquerors and the philosophers” (199). The Semantic Web, ideally, is a common framework that can provide findability (visibility!) for any piece of data – whether it is created by Tim Berners-Lee or your grandma. The Semantic Web is not a hierarchy, with Tim, or kings, or “men of letters” occupying their thrones as “the purveyors of the most legitimate knowledge.”

The Semantic Web sure sounds great, doesn’t it? That’s the thing – it sounds great, but is far from complete. The very vastness of knowledge on which it attempts to capitalize makes it an exceedingly difficult task, and some believe it is impossible. However, there is no finish line in our compulsive race to categorize the world of knowledge. 


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