3 What next? Concrete Steps

It was clear at this point in the discussions that there were two possibilities facing the Semantic Web as well as the Thinktank and some time was spent exploring the extent to which the Semantic Web itself was inevitable, in the sense that it could grow organically out of the Web, or, alternatively, the extent (and at which point) it would need to be standardised.

Leading on from earlier discussions some felt that the Semantic Web would need an agreed format of ontologies, although this could vary from being fairly generic to specific, while others felt that after initial agreements were made the majority could build incrementally and be subject to a process of revisiting and refining later on. Richard Light highlighted the dangers in this approach, suggesting that this relied too heavily on assumptions about meaning and raised issues regarding trust. To Richard in order to trust the information it was important that PSI’s (Published Subject Identifiers/Indicators) were both formalised, unique and agreed upon by an authoritative body.

“Every museum needs a URL and every object in it should have a URI and URL which gives it co-contextuality.” Jon Pratty

This then became the first step in the creation of a ‘to-do’ list for the group, as summarised by Nick Poole and Jon Pratty who saw it as a four-step process:

1. Unique Identifiers – Sustainable, formalised, unique identifiers would have to be agreed upon.

2. Standards – the standards that are affected by these would need to be updated. These include the accession form, registers and Modes.

3. Funding bids – to consider changes to how we specify projects.

4. Outreach – disseminating the changes and outcomes

The final step in this method, however, raised the issue of transparency, and the degree to which the group should brand the outcomes or recommendations as ‘The Semantic Web’. To Nick this amounted to trying to sell a car by exposing its technical diagram and Mike noted that it was the transparency of many of the demonstrator projects that led, directly or indirectly, to its failure.

Jon highlighted the success of technorati tags, where an agreed set of meanings and values are already used, which, although chaotic and haphazard, do work in extremely interesting ways. Other members of the group advocated a more open, although possibly stealthy and non-technical approach to the dissemination of the Semantic Web. This was seen as important in marketing it to the sector as otherwise there may be a risk that the non-technical museum professionals and leaders will not buy into it.

Jon Pratty: “People who work in museums and digital cultural places have got to realise that the internet and digital culture is changing and becoming more three dimensional. We’ve got to get across to everyone working with objects or ideas, or speeches or poems, that they are no longer unable to disseminate – you can get your stuff connected up to this vast information space and it’s your responsibility to do it in as efficiently and in as well-formed way as possible. These new technologies give us much more complex, much more efficient and, for the end user, a much better way of using the web. That’s a change in mindset that people in the museum sector have got to take on board.”

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