Robert A. Uhl

Where’s the Semantic Web?

A few days ago I was driving along when a great song from my college years came on the radio (One Headlight by the Wallflowers). It occurred to me that it’d be really great to know the next time they’re in town. But then I realised that there’s no way for me to be alerted of the fact.

Sure, I could sign up for their mailing list. But then I’d get announcements of records, of shows in other cities and states, perhaps the lead singer’s thoughts on politics or art or some other subject. I don’t want to know every update about the band: I just want to know when they’re playing within eight leagues of my home.

I could manually go to every concert venue in town and sign up for their mailing lists. But they may not have them at all! If they do have them, then they will send me emails about the latest death metal acts to play on their stages. I don’t want to know every band to play at the Bluebird; I just want to know the next time the Wallflowers play.

All the information about where the Wallflowers are playing is already online, in the form of concert listings at venues and postings on their website and advertisements and concert highlights in newspapers. But there’s no way to get at that data and be alerted when something interesting happens.

The Semantic Web was supposed to save me all this trouble. The semantics of data were to have been encoded with the data itself: venues would all use a common standard to indicate their listings and bands would all use a common standard to indicate their shows. Fans would then have been able to create agents which would alert them with news they would find interesting (e.g. ‘the Wallflowers are playing at the Gothic Monday’). This clearly is in everyone’s benefit: the fans get to see more shows; the artists get larger audiences; the venues sell more tickets. It’s win-win-win. But it hasn’t happened.

I think the problem is that everyone is short-sighted. They all want to run their own little walled gardens of mailing lists and web sites, afraid that if they make it easier for fans to find shows then they might find them at other venues or listen to other artists. The sad thing is, they’re almost certainly wrong: if they opened things up, the fans would see more shows and listen to more artists. I know I would.

07 February 2018: and here we are almost a decade later, and the best Ticketmaster can do is send me an email with a list of bands I don’t want to listen to.