Is the Semantic Web just a dream?

While we all continue to talk up the benefits of Web 2.0 and all that it brings, there are a number of companies and researchers working furiously on the next step in the evolution of the World Wide Web.

The Semantic Web is for some just a utopian dream of what the Internet will be in the future – but for Sir Timothy Berners-Lee (the founder of the World Wide Web), this is no dream.

If the web is a universal medium for data, information, and knowledge exchange as envisioned and created by Berners-Lee, then what exactly is the Semantic Web all about?

In its simplest definition the Semantic Web, which is a proposed natural evolution of the World Wide Web, focuses on the meaning (semantics) of information on the web and how it is defined, making it possible for machines to process it.

A direct quote from Berners-Lee from way back in 1999 sums up his vision for the Semantic Web: “I have a dream for the Web (in which computers) become capable of analysing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialise.”

Will it be possible to bring about the massive amount of automation on the web needed to make this vision a reality? Will machines be able to reason and make sense of the huge amount of data out there (50 odd billion web pages), and automate the process of making decisions for us mere mortals?

There are many questions that still need to be answered to make the Semantic Web a reality. And there are a number of camps that agree to disagree on the technical development of the Semantic Web from the need to use ontologies or not — ontologies are used in the Semantic Web as a form of knowledge representation about the world or some part of it.

Some interesting developments around the Semantic Web lie in semantic advertising and the future of online advertising.

We are all quite aware of contextual advertising, specifically from the likes of Google, that allow advertisements to be targeted to the content on the web page.

But semantic advertising looks to go further and allow for pinpoint precision of advertising, removing ambiguity on web pages where the content may be referring to a cat – when in actual fact it is referring to a Cat (caterpillar excavator).

There are many factors in the research towards the proposed reality of Berners-Lee’s vision to moving the web towards a semantic one.

Major advances in artificial intelligence are needed and a common framework for establishing relationships between data sources and information to allow for a uniform industry move in that direction.

The future of the World Wide Web is indeed an interesting one, but don’t bet against Sir Timothy Berners-Lee. He made his initial vision a reality, and this one may very well become a reality in the not too distant future.



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