Florian Cramer on Thu, 20 Dec 2007 04:27:38 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Critique of the "Semantic Web"

Dear Reto,

thanks for your critical feedback, and I indeed have to make a number of
corrections in my paper (and maybe post them in the form of a patch
here). Nevertheless, it seems to me as if we are misunderstanding each
other on the real issue:

> In the technologies underlying the Semantic Web[1] "Nettime" neither
> refers to a mailing-list nor to a company. "Nettime" is a literal and as
> such self-denoting[2].  Referring to the mailing list is possible by
> indirection using an ontology, the following says "There is something
> that is a mailing list and is named 'Nettime'" (using an example
> ontology ex as well as the rdf and dc vocabularies, using N3 syntax, the
> prefix "rdf:", "ex:" and "dc:" are shortcuts for URI-namespaces):
> [ rdf:type ex:MailingList; dc:Title "Nettime"].
> This doesn't contradicts the following:
> [ rdf:type ex:TeleCafeCompany; dc:Title "Nettime"].
> which says "There is something that is a TeleCafeCompany and is called
> 'Nettime'".

My point actually was not that there would be a danger in the Semantic
Web to confuse the two Nettimes (since avoiding such ambiguities as
opposed conventional full text queries is its very design objective),
but quite the opposite: That with its goal of unambiguous
categorization, it reduces, or even fails to acknowledge, the cultural
complexity of the phenomena it references. 

"Nettime" is a good example because even in the case of the Nettime
we're referring to here, the categorization "MailingList" is by no means
uncontroversial. Nettime has also be called a "collaborative filter",
and it has not only involved the mailing list, but also meetings,
printed readers or, in the case of a work by Pit Schultz from 1997, an
experimental slide projector screening in a Berlin techno club. Just
recently, someone told me that she considered Nettime really a social
network.  In other words, there is no label, or no descriptive tags
Nettime itself would agree upon, let alone an "ontological"
categorization in relation to higher-order, synonymic or subordinate
concepts or phenomena. 

The Semantic Web, as your example shows, rests on the illusion that
there can be common sense descriptions, while in real world semantics,
you can't have meaning without viewpoint and cultural conflict. [A
truism since Locke and Kant, and my reason to call the Semantic Web a
scholastic project.]

The argument that the Semantic Web can have multiple "ontologies" each
of which could potentially tag and map Nettime in different ways seems
to be moot if not an alibi; if you would map all the pluralities of
meanings given to Nettime, you would end up just creating a one-to-one
replica of the semantic mess that already exists in folksonomies and
untagged texts. And in comparison to concepts like, say, "god",
"perversion", "culture", "madness" or "race", "Nettime" is even a quite
easy subject.



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