The Semantic Web

September 15, 2010

Semantics is generally defined as the study of meaning. It rather is an all-encompassing definition, although semantics usually focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for. So for example, linguistic semantics focuses on the study of meanings which are expressed by humans to express by the use of languages. Similarly, another related form of semantics covers the study of programming languages.

w3cTherefore it’s easy to see how Semantics can be applied to the Web, by creating methods and technologies that allow machines to understand the meaning (the “semantics”) of information distributed on the World Wide Web.

The term “Semantic Web” was first coined by Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). On its original inception machine-readable metadata would enable automated agents and other software to access the Web more intelligently.

And that’s precisely what in theory the Semantic Web is supposed to be about. Describing things in a way that computers can understand. Thus the Semantic Web describes relationships between things (like A is a part of B and Y is a member of Z) and the properties of things (like size, weight, age, and price). This methodology should enable agents to perform tasks automatically and locate related information on behalf of the user. You can think of it as some type of Artificial Intelligence applied to content that is meant to be retrievable and indexed by Search Engines.

The Semantic Web is about common formats for integration and combination of data drawn from diverse sources, where on 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 other databases which are connected by being about the same topic.

There are several technologies being developed to achieve this goal such as the Resource Description Framework (RDF), a variety of data interchange formats (e.g. RDF/XML, N3, Turtle, N-Triples), and notations such as RDF Schema (RDFS) and the Web Ontology Language (OWL), all of which are intended to provide a formal description of concepts, terms, and relationships within a given knowledge domain.

All of them look very promising and as early as 2002 Berners-Lee prematurely declared that the Semantic Web had already lift off, although in the real world the vast majority of websites failed to take any notice. It’s true that during the past few years most webmasters have switched to CSS to facilitate a better separation between  presentation and content, and that move has undoubtedly has helped to better structure the available on-line data, but that’s about all that can be said that has been widely implemented as far as semantics are concerned, and it certainly falls way short of the original planned goal. Truth is, we don’t have a web of data yet. Instead data is controlled by applications, and each application keeps it to itself.

As of 2010 many of the technologies proposed by the W3C  are only being used in a few websites, mainly from large corporations, but the Semantic Web as a global vision however, has remained largely unimplemented, and this is due in part to the many technical hurdles involved.

Unless you have a strong technical background and plenty of time on your hands to delve into the intricacies of semantics, in order to have your website geared up for the next generation Semantic Web 3.0, you will certainly need the help of experienced professionals. Contact Us and we will study your particular enterprise project and design a tailor-made semantic solution to bolster your Internet presence.

“If HTML and the Web made all the online documents look like one huge book, RDF, schema, and inference languages will make all the data in the world look like one huge database”
Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web, 1999