I went to the Silicon Valley Semantic Web Meetup last night about Facebook's Open Graph Protocol. The presentation by Austin Haugen and Paul Tarjan was short and sweet and gave the best overview of OGP that I have seen. It included a live demo of using OGP to link a page into facebook - it only took a couple minutes, but made it very clear what was and wasn't going on.
On the one hand, I see why Jim Hendler has said that the more he sees of OGP, the better he likes it; these guys really 'get' the Semantic Web, they understand what it means to link a page in a web of data rather than just point to it, and they can demonstrate it very cleanly inside the facebook infrastructure.
But on the other hand, when I asked the speakers how I could query the Open Graph, their answer was, for us linked data fans, a bit disappointing (though I applaud the speakers for their honesty). Not only is there no way to query the graph, there won't be one any time soon. One speaker went so far as to say, "we're sort of faking the semantic web here; there's no Virtuoso behind this."
My hopes of using Facebook as a sort of clearinghouse of interesting RDF data for classes, demos, etc. were dashed right away.
My question attracted a number of discussions afterward, many of which had a cynical edge; one fellow said to me that it is clear that facebook doesn't really understand or care about the Semantic Web; they just want a way to drive more traffic to their site, and that the techies just made it look like Semantic Web to jump on the buzzword bandwagon. I guess it's nice that we're a buzzword bandwagon now, that someone like facebook wants to be part of. The discussion also wandered to speculations about Google's intentions with our darling Metaweb, and what plans the not-evil giant has for her.
Be this as it may (and of course it is true to some extent; after all, facebook lives in a capitalist economy, so making money has to be a big part of what drives their decisions), that didn't stop me from putting a facebook "like" button on workingontologist.org .
On the other hand (how many hands do I have now?), one can see a motivation for facebook to include a query interface to the Open Graph Protocol - after all, they do want to encourage a cottage industry of app builders to add functionality to their site. And we know how successful RDF has been in doing that - just look at SearchMonkey...., oh wait. Maybe not.
One of the things I found most informative about the talk came in the discussion in response to various questions about design decisions. From the point of view of metatags, the Open Graph Protocol is really simple; just a handful of required tags with a simplified syntax (simpler even than standard RDFa). Even so, facebook user studies showed that this was almost too complicated. Even very small complications - additional namespaces, some slightly twisty syntax from RDFa - were found to have a severe damping effect on technology adoption. It seems that even the levels of simplicity we argue for in our Semantic Universe blog entry on technology adoption are not enough; for some audiences, simple really has to be simple. This is a tough pill for any technologist to swallow; looking at OGP makes it look as if the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. But there are now hundreds of millions of new 'like' buttons around the web; simplicity pays off. As another commenter pointed out, regardless of the purity (or lack thereof) of the facebook approach, OGP has still made the biggest splash in terms of bringing semantic web to the attention of the public at large. So who's the bandwagon, and who's riding?