The other day, I was reading a very good article from ReadWriteWeb regarding where all of the semantic web authoring tools are. The author, Nitin Karandikar, had some very good points about the importance of tools.
On the one hand, most authors are comfortable with, and proficient in, desktop authoring tools such as Microsoft Word, FrontPage, Adobe GoLive and others … The current crop of authoring tools produce visually high-quality articles and web pages, but their XML creation capabilities are severely limited.
Given this fact, the logical step is to parse these types of documents for some sort of semantics or meaning. The problem with this approach is that semantic parsing is still in the realm of academia, and not really ready for mainstream use. There are some public tools that are capable of such things, and the article mentions a few.
The article goes on to describe the types of authoring capabilities that are needed, and links to various other articles on semantic web issues. So, the question arises, if there are no mainstream authoring tools, is the Semantic web dead on arrival? Honestly, I hope not as I think the information available would be more usable in a semantic web format.
Are authoring tools important? Well, let us look at history to determine this. In the word processing world, there is a technology called SGML. It has all of the needed complexity to “mark up” a document with semantic meaning. It has been around for decades, even before modern day word processors like Microsoft Word. However, there were very few tools available, and SGML never really exploded. It is now known as the basis for various formats like HTML, XHTML, and Docbook. On the other hand, we had Microsoft Windows and languages like C++. Windows programs were really hard to create and you needed to have significant experience to write a solid application. Microsoft decides to use Basic (a simple language to learn) as the basis for a new visual programming tool, Visual Basic. VB then took over the Windows programming world.
There are various other examples we could look at, but I do no think it is necessary. If the semantic web is going to become a mainstream technology, we need simple authoring tools in the manner of Visual Basic. Otherwise, it will be another really cool technology that people will forget about.