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Facebook, the Semantic Web, Linked Data, and XBRL

OK, I will be the first to admit it, I don't totally get what is going on here.  I am trying to understand.  The reality is that I am not sure anyone really understands what WILL happen.  There are probably more who understand what COULD happen.

These seem to be that some of the moving pieces are things like:

  • Facebook:  "Facebook?", you may be asking.  Yes, Facebook.  Either the people at Facebook "get it", or maybe they don't, or it may even be that I am seeing this wrong.  But, this is what I see.  One of the biggest problems relating to the Internet is that the Internet does not know who I am, what I like, what I care about, and what I really don't care to have anything to do with.  So, I get everything.  That is overwhelming, information overload.  BUT, does Facebook have the answer?  Profiles.  Yes, your profile.  What if, say, Facebook allowed you to make meta data available about yourself and then other web sites, search engines, robots, and other "stuff" out there on the internet trying to help you could really help you.  I mean, what if as part of Facebook and Facebook's ability to turn information which is made available to categories of users were applied to meta data.  What if you could use Facebook (it really does not need to be Facebook but they do have a lot of market share) to create meta data which would help web sites and other things trying to understand you, to understand you.  Then, in one place (i.e. Facebook) a user could provide a profile in computer readable meta data to help you get customized news feeds, customized magazine articles, etc.
  • U.S. Federal Government's Use of Semantic Web:  People are pushing the semantic web, I think I understand at least the basics of why the semantic web is better than the current Web.  It is not the case that we get one or the other, we can have both.  It seems like this financial crisis, the Obama administration's understanding of what technology can do, and some of the things which are already being done (i.e. Recovery.gov, USASPending.gov, the SEC IDEA system, FDIC's use of XBRL, etc).  Now, these things are NOT the semantic web, but it is a good first step...get the data out there.
  • Linked data:  Tim Berners-Lee gave a presentation on Linked Data at the TED 2009 conference.  Each agency in the Federal Government independently creating a bunch of data and making it available in XML (rather than HTML) is better than nothing.  But, a coordinated effort would be even better.  I don't see much coordination.  For example, the XBRL made available by financial institutions to the FDIC and the XBRL financial information made available by banks to the SEC are not related in any way, manual relations therefore would need to be created to indicate that the information at the FDIC and the SEC is for the same company.  I don't quite get stuff like this.  Guess it means something.
  • XBRL:  How XBRL relates to "the semantic web" is not clear to me.  XBRL is XML, it does express semantic meaning.  It does express meta data.  Most certainly XBRL is data made available on the Web, and it is way better than PDF or HTML financial statements.  But how does XBRL relate to RDF, OWL, and all the other things mentioned above in the link describing the Federal Government's use of the semantic web.  I don't get it.

I do know this.  It seems like the probability of the semantic web becoming something useful increases every day.  That means that the good old ways of doing a lot of things will be changing.  What will change, how to adjust, how to take advantage of these coming changes; that is what I am trying to figure out.  Particularly with regard to XBRL; what exactly is XBRL's role relative to other types of XML, how can this be applied by the accounting profession (I am a CPA), how can a business leverage these technologies, etc.  I am quite sure some very useful things will come out of all this.

Posted on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 09:47AM by Registered CommenterCharlie in , , | Comments3 Comments | References1 Reference

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    [...]Facebook, the Semantic Web, Linked Data, and XBRL - Blog: Digital Financial Reporting (using XBRL) - Semantic, structured, model-based authoring of digital financial reports leveraging the XBRL medium[...]

Reader Comments (3)

March 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKingsley Idehen
Charlie is right, "there is something going on here." However, the interesting challenge with the Semantic Web and Linked Data is that both presuppose the current structure of the Internet. As noted in Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous, the Semantic Web "is so ambitious that it falls prey to the same problems that beset Dewey and other large taxonomies." It is a big Ontology in a world of crowd-sourced tag clouds.

No doubt about it, the introduction of HTML and HTTP created a massive surge in the popularization of the Internet for non-academic use. Regretfully, though, it has also confused people. Many do not know the difference between a web browser and the Internet.

By going beyond Tim Berners-Lee’s notion of linked data, we can “invert the Internet” and bring individuals back into the equation, with profiles that they own (not Facebook) and reintroduce all of us to what the Internet was before HTML, a powerful medium for connections, connections between people (and ultimately the data that matters to them).
March 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGary
Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and a ton of others not only maintain user profiles but also use them (e.g. for showing ads corresponding to your interests or habits) and even expose them via an API. But as Gary pointed out, users should own their profiles. A few solutions exist for distributed ID systems. One of them is OpenID (http://www.openid.net).
March 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEugene W

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