The Semantic Web
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GOOGLE COULD BE SUPERSEDED, SAYS WEB INVENTOR
By Jonathan Richards
March 12, 2008
Google may eventually be displaced as the pre-eminent brand on the internet
by a company that harnesses the power of next-generation web technology, the
inventor of the World Wide Web has said.
The search giant had developed an extremely effective way of searching for
pages on the internet, Tim Berners-Lee said, but that ability paled in
comparison to what could be achieved on the "web of the future", which he
said would allow any piece of information -- such as a photo or a bank
statement -- to be linked to any other.
Mr Berners-Lee said that in the same way, the "current craze" for social
networking sites like Facebook and MySpace would eventually be superceded by
networks that connected all types of things -- not just people -- thanks to
a ground-breaking technology known as the "semantic web".
The semantic web is the term used by the computer and internet industry to
describe the next phase of the web's development, and essentially involves
building web-based connectivity into any piece of data -- not just a web
page -- so that it can "communicate" with other information.
Whereas the existing web is a collection of pages with links between them
that Google and other search engines help the user to navigate, the
"semantic web" will enable direct connectivity between much more low-level
pieces of information -- a written street address and a map, for instance --
which in turn will give rise to new services.
"Using the semantic web, you can build applications that are much more
powerful than anything on the regular web," Mr Berners-Lee said. "Imagine if
two completely separate things -- your bank statements and your calendar --
spoke the same language and could share information with one another. You
could drag one on top of the other and a whole bunch of dots would appear
showing you when you spent your money.
"If you still weren't sure of where you were when you made a particular
transaction, you could then drag your photo album on top of the calendar,
and be reminded that you used your credit card at the same time you were
taking pictures of your kids at a theme park. So you wouldd know not to
claim it as a tax deduction.
"It's about creating a seamless web of all the data in your life."
One example frequently given is of typing a street address which, if it had
"semantic data" built into it, would link directly to a map showing its
location, dispensing with the need to go to a site like Google `maps, type
in the address, get the link and paste it into a document or e-mail.
The challenge, experts say, is in finding a way to represent all data so
that when it is connected to the web, links to other relevant information
can be recognised and established -- a bit like the process known as
"tagging". One expected application is in the pharmaceutical industry, where
previously unconnected pieces of research into a drug or disease, say, could
be brought together and assimilated.
Mr Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web in 1989 while a fellow at
CERN, the European Organsation for Nuclear Research in Switzerland, would
not be drawn on the type of application that the "Google of the future"
would develop, but said it would likely be a type of "mega-mash-up", where
information is taken from one place and made useful in another context using
Existing "mash-ups", such as progams that plotted the location of every
Starbucks in a city using Google maps, were a start, he said in an interview
with Times Online, but they were limited because a separate application had
to be built each time a new service was imagined.
"In the semantic web, it's like every piece of data is given a longitude and
latitute on a map, and anyone can 'mash' them together and use them for
Mr Berners-Lee, who is now a director of the Web Science Research
Initiative, a collaborative project between the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and the University of Southampton, sought to put into context the
rapid growth of social networking sites in recent years, saying that once
the semantic web was rolled out they would be thought of as one of many
types of network available.
"At the moment, people are very excited about all these connections being
made between people -- for obvious reasons, because people are important --
but I think after a while people will realise that there are many other
things you can connect to via the web."
He also spoke about what he described as one of the key challenges of the
web today -- confronting the security risks associated with large databases
of information that were attractive to criminals and identity fraudsters.
"There are definitely better ways of managing that threat. I think we're
soon going to see a new tipping point where different types of crimes become
possible and lucrative, and it's something we constantly have to be aware
"One option is to build systems which more effectively track what
information you've used to perform a particular task, and make sure people
aren't using their authority to do things that they shouldn't be doing."
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Published by David Sunfellow
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