Google Base And The Incidental Semantic Web

So the Web is all abuzz about Google Base so I figured I’d chime in (because you know, the world needs one more opinion on this thing).

Beyond my own (admittedly fun) conspiracy theories about Google in general, you have to give Google credit for trying to package up and introduce an extremely abstract idea – the Semantic Web – to the masses.
If we can take off our Techie hats for a second and step into the mind of the average web user, a first visit to Google Base would probably result in a “what the hell am I supposed to do with this?” Is it classifieds? Is it a place to store my lists? Is it some sort of publishing tool?
This ambiguity and lack of definition, or more importantly, lack of clear purpose for end users, will be Google Base’s (or any attempt to create a semantically-centric platform) biggest challenge. They try to narrow your options by providing an initial set of categories, but that may well cause more confusion than provide clarity. “What do vehicles have to do with recipes?”
Now, this barrier to entry isn’t just me bitching about adoption. I think what Google’s trying to do here is in the spirit of social platforms like and Flickr, that is, creating incidentally valuable information by people’s ordinary usage of a service.
We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how our tags will help the larger population. We just do it because it makes our own lives easier. The fact that a “greater good” evolves out of our collective behavior is a happy accident. The challenge for Google Base is making certain that a recognizable and narrow goal is there for users to see and that the actions users take will benefit this larger semantic picture that Google is trying to draw.
The real Holy Grail here is to build a rich semantic web that materializes as a byproduct of an experience that is cleary understood and reinforces and rewards ceratin behaviors. The semantic web is all about making signal out of noise. Google Base is ambitious in that it is an attempt to start taking us down some sort of path towards a semantic web. Now we’ll have to see if the masses do their part.

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