My Goodness is Right…

Danny Ayers flames MÃ¥rten Mickos for giving a speech at the Web 2.0 Summit on his vision for the “great database in the sky”. Ayers criticism is that MÃ¥rten is not educated enough on the semantic web and the progress that has been made in realizing that vision while promoting a relational database ideology. My interpretation: Ayers believes one thing and MÃ¥rten is running a business delivering another thing that is in conflict with what he believes in. Okay, fair enough but to flame MÃ¥rten for this is uncalled for and the tone of the post is lacking in professional courtesy or even the smallest hint of respect for what MySQL has done in the market and how the open source community and the web is a better place because of them.

I think it’s fair to say that Ayers is also lacking in appreciation of the reality that in the enterprise market MySQL is selling into when you mention things like SPARQL (using CRUD operators against RDF) or even the semantic web you are greeted by a long uncomfortable silence. This is not because the enterprise is ignorant (which I assume is what Ayers is suggesting by calling MÃ¥rten regressive) but rather the promise of these technologies has not been met in the actual implementations of things that enterprise users care about. In fact when you talk about “database in the cloud” you are more likely to get nods of approval because the implementations that have gained notoriety are based on Oracle ( and others like Rightnow (MySQL) and Netsuite (Oracle). All of these initiatives are built around applications and process, not the notion of the data just being there and the relationships figured out later.

Having said all that, I’m no database expert and I genuinely admire Ayers for his expertise in this area. No doubt this semantic web notion of distributed data will gain in prominence in the years to come, but that’s no reason to attack MÃ¥rten today for doing what he believes in necessary for MySQL to grow. I think the blogosphere would be a much better place if MÃ¥rten’s request was granted:

“My humble wish would be for the experts of the semantic web not to flame me for having discussed a related topic in public, but to welcome this as something that will stimulate debate and perhaps help advance related technologies.”

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4 thoughts on My Goodness is Right…

  1. I accept that my post may have come across as being a personal attack, and for that I owe MÃ¥rten apologies. That wasn’t the intent, though I do think someone from the database community talking about a Web of Data should have been better informed about developments on the Web, whatever their expertise with Data.

    There is absolutely no conflict between what MÃ¥rten’s company delivers and what I believe in, and MySQL is a great backend for Semantic Web applications. I’d also note that MÃ¥rten wasn’t talking about products in the enterprise, he was talking about the “Great Database in the Sky” (and I didn’t actually call him regressive).

    You mention Oracle, they recently built support for RDF (the core Semantic Web data language) into their flagship product. Other companies in the enterprise arena are also active around Semantic Web technologies, notably HP and IBM, and I believe SAP are busy around Semantic Web Services. Even so the enterprise market isn’t necessarily the first target for languages like RDF/SPARQL (however the W3C are trying to promote these technologies in those circles). This stuff is designed to make the Web better. But given the events of the past decade or so that’s liable to impact the enterprise.

    On the question of working from applications and process – right now I disagree about these being so significant in this context, but am prepared to be convinced. The Web started as a fairly minimal, fairly local info-sharing application, but had features like uniformity of interface and ease of use that allowed it to benefit from the network effect. I rather like your phrase the “notion of the data just being there and the relationships figured out later”, because to a great extent it reflects what happens in the world, outside the confines of the firewall.

    Anyhow, though I largely disagree with your impression, thanks for taking the trouble to comment on this.

  2. Hi Danny,
    Thank you for commenting. It’s never easy to write a post like this when the tone impacts the message to such a large degree… which is kind of ironic when you consider the topic at hand is “semantic” web…

    Coming from SAP and having some understanding of what the other big enterprises are doing in this area (I led a competitive strategy team at SAP focused exclusively on Oracle) I can offer that much of what you see in semantic web research in these companies is directed at BI solutions, enterprise search, and integration of structured and unstructured data. All are important but none are to the extent that you (or I for that matter) would prefer.

    The one company that really is pushing the envelope of a database in the cloud is with both appexchange and the recently announced Apex language. However, close inspection of that two things reveals that they are anything but semantic… in fact you could almost just call them “PL/SQL in the cloud” and still be accurate.

    More to my comment about applications and process, both of which are dependent on a well defined data schema if for no other reason than this is what the culture of these companies demands because they believe it is in their competitive interests to have it that way – control. The recently launched Workday does offer a glimpse of a more declarative ideology but I’ll have to learn more about that before commenting.

    I’ll end here because this dialogue just gave me a great idea for a full post that I need to think about so more before writing.

    Thanks again.

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