Friday, March 25, 2011

On Information and Trust

Within a Semantic Web application (I supposed it does not have to be a Semantic Web application, however that's the context I have been working in and thus is most immediate to this thought) you, as a user, may be presented with and using data from multiple sources.  Since the data is all semantically linked it does not necessarily need to reside in a single store but can be obtained from another authority on the subject of the resource in question.  

A question this brought up for me was one of trust.  Trust specifically concerning the validity of the information retrieved from a data source.  Since anyone can post information about a subject given a canonical URI, the "truthfulness" of the data is questionable at best.  For instance, presuming the URI was intended to reference the Chuck Norris, I could, on my website, post a tuple such as foaf:nick "Prissy Pants Magee" 

which would establish that Chuck Norris has at least one nickname and that nickname is "Prissy Pants Magee." 

Perhaps, because I was not thinking clearly, this was a concern of mine for some time.  However I eventually came to the realization that, simply moving towards a Semantic Web does not remove the onus of understanding the sources of data from the user.  As has always been the case, the consumer of information must know that the information is coming from a source that the consumer trusts.  A user trusting one newspaper and not another will be analogous to a user trusting one data source concerning Chuck Norris facts and not another.  And similarly, any tuple I may post on my website will be used only insofar as I (or my website) am (is) regarded as an authority on the subject matter.