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What to expect from the Semantic Web

By [email protected] - 22nd June 2009 - 10:40

The Semantic Web may be just a component of the much-touted Web 3.0 search technology or it may eventually be all of Web 3.0. Either way, it\'s coming, and the gurus are talking about what it will do for you, writes Christopher Backeberg...
The Semantic WebAccording to the W3C group, the people who set technical standards for the Internet, the Semantic Web will provide a common framework for data sharing and reuse across different application, enterprise and community boundaries. It\'s a collaborative effort led by W3C with participation by many researchers and industrial partners. When it finally arrives, it will change the way you search for things on mobiles and desktops alike.It will also lift you above many current limitations of the Internet. As one example, the W3C team explains: \"The Semantic Web is a web of data. There is lots of data we all use every day, and it is not part of the web. I can see my bank statements on the web, and my photographs, and I can see my appointments in a calendar. But can I see my photos in a calendar to see what I was doing when I took them? Can I see bank statement lines in a calendar?\"Why not? Because we don\'t have a web of data. Because data is controlled by applications, and each application keeps it to itself.\"The explanation continues: \"The Semantic Web is about two things. It is about common formats for integration and combination of data drawn from diverse sources, where the original Web mainly concentrated on the interchange of documents. It is also about language for recording how the data relates to real world objects. That allows a person, or a machine, to start off in one database, and then move through an unending set of databases which are connected not by wires but by being about the same thing.\"Are you confused yet?Confusion does hover around the concept of the Semantic Web for several reasons, not least because many people have never heard of it. The term came into use when Net gurus started talking about the evolution of the Internet from its initial Web 1.0 implementation, through its present Web 2.0 and towards the logical next step, Web 3.0.The confusion may be deepened by the problem that the Semantic Web is often discussed in so-called \"geek talk\". To add to the fuzziness, companies are developing overly complex tools to help websites implement semantic features, according to Tom Tague, head of the OpenCalais initiative at Thomson Reuters.Speaking at the recent Web 3.0 conference in New York, Tague stated: \"In 80% of the discussions I have with tools vendors, I\'m not able to understand what they do. They need to simplify their story. We need simple tools that work. If I can\'t understand it, the enterprise IT guys aren\'t going to be interested.\" And we ordinary users may be left even more in the dark.Heading towards the Semantic WebTo simplify: Web 1.0, the first implementation of the Internet, allowed you to look at static sites and send text emails. Web 2.0, which has been around for a good ten years now, introduced interactivity, with websites generating dynamic information from databases, allowing users to add or edit information on sites like Facebook, and with the added ability to send emails that may look like mini-websites. Of course you still usually have to attach separate documents to your fancy emails.Web 3.0 has been talked about at least since 1998. Don\'t blame the whiz kids for not giving it to us already. They could probably quite rightly point out that they\'ve had to wait for the world\'s bandwidth to increase dramatically and for computers and hand-helds to reach their current state of the art. A smartphone or desktop will need its high-speed connectivity and operations to exploit the Semantic Web.These days Web 3.0 and Semantic Web appear to have become blurred into a single notion. The Semantic Web will be able to deliver information that has been harvested, filtered, sorted and prettily presented from two or more sites simultaneously. It may add information drawn from other sources that don\'t run through websites but are reachable online.There have already been moves to make this happen. In the UK, for example, the Office of the Prime Minister announced a few days ago that government data will start becoming available on the web over the coming months - presumably nothing classified or sensitive, but information which could be greatly important to various researchers. With the Semantic Web, it shouldn\'t be necessary to provide that type of information through a website.It follows that the mobile web will be a part of the larger and potentially boundary-free Semantic Web. Mobile navigation and location-based services will be included and could be greatly enhanced. In theory, for example, if the Semantic Web can pull data from many applications and servers into a single set of information, mobile advertisers may not have to rely on a single operator or broker to get their messages across. Similarly, users may eventually be able to receive a single set of collated location-based data from numerous sources.Where are the big search engines?It\'s been suggested in some quarters that the Semantic Web may be intuitive enough to bypass the search engines. The new tools may be clever enough to interpret the most loosely phrased and badly spelt search queries with enough refinement to deliver exactly what you want to know. You could search from the top screen of your mobile.Tom Tague doesn\'t think the Semantic Web is anywhere close to this level of sophistication. Quite apart from the fact that there aren\'t yet any real applications using semantic applications fully, he makes this observation about the biggies like Google and Yahoo: \"For most people, the current model is fine, they don\'t need to change.\"Meanwhile the search engines won\'t be sitting back and waiting for the Semantic Web to pounce on them unawares. In their continual refinement of their services, they are introducing functions that start to look a lot like the beginning of a truly semantic Internet.Yahoo\'s SearchMonkey already does one of the things the Semantic Web is supposed to do, and that is deliver information directly instead of churning out a list of search results. \"We want to get away from the legacy of the ten blue links,\" comments Prabhakar Raghavan, Yahoo\'s chief search strategist & head of Yahoo Labs. \"No one really wants to search - they just want results.\"Two new features from Google will also change the way search information is delivered. The Wonder Wheel shows results and search alternatives in visual format. Google Squared presents sorted information in tabulated columns and rows.Who will be the winners?Users may gain before the advertisers do. They will benefit from the potential power of the Semantic Web to do a host of fun things such as aggregating the relevant content collected in a social networking site. If Tom Tague is correct, they will gain in other ways as well: \"I believe the next big set of innovations are tools that stay with the users wherever they go. If you want to deliver a compelling experience, go where the people are in the browser and in their mobile devices.\"For advertisers and for operators who seek ad revenue, semantic search technology needs to be defined and applied more cleanly and firmly before it can become a component of their financial calculations. According to Tague, although some ideas for implementing the Semantic Web may sound good, there\'s no sure revenue model yet.Source: The Where Business online news

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