Is the semantic web ready?

The Semantic Web is a new type of web where your computer or other machine can read the contents of documents the way that you can read them. It can read them and know they mean.

W3C director Sir Tim Berners-Lee says it's time for us to start using semantic languages in addition to HTML. Since he basically invented the Web as we know it (I'm not exaggerating) and the semantic web is his current focus, I think we need to pay attention. So here is some simple information and links (get into this deeper and it gets crazy)

Most of us are more familiar with semantics in language (linguistics) where it is the study of the meaning of words, phrases, sentences. Semantics is often contrasted with syntax (the formal arrangement of characters and words) in a language. Syntax attempts to systematize grammar (well, descriptive grammar - not prescriptive grammar, but let's not get off on that one).

So, when you use the word "web", do you mean the Internet kind, the spidery one, or some other meaning like the "web of life" that an environmentalist might invoke? That's the point. I don't know what one you mean - unless I hear/see it in some context. If you say Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, I know what meaning to attach. If say that you are surfing the web, I'm OK with the meaning for that one too. But your computer can't even figure that out - yet.

And when someone says that Senator Example is a liberal, and someone else replies that he is a moderate liberal, I might say "That's only semantics," since it's difficult to draw conclusions about the Senator based on the meaning of those two words for which we probably can't even agree on meanings. (If I had said "Only semantics that's," you would have easily seen problems with my syntax - interestinly, you might have still figured out my meaning.)

Computers love syntax. Mess up the order and arrangement of things when you write code and they are very unhappy. They don't think about meaning as much - yet.

Not everyone agrees with Tim. Others say the Net is a mess of unstructured data with very little ability to easily/intelligently link groups of documents together, and that there is no way for computers to manipulate the information in web pages effectively.

The Semantic Web project wants to solve this problem by adding machine-readable content to the Web.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Sir Tim Berners-Lee: "We set out five years ago with the famous layer cake diagram, saying we're going to need RDF (resource description framework) as a data language, we're going to need an ontology language, we're going to need query and rules languages. We've been making our way through that."

What is he recommending now? "The Query language, SPARQL, is now in the candidate recommendation phase, which means it's time to implement it."

Jim Hendler, one of the authors of the original semantic Web proposal, feels the project is already ahead of the original expectations.

"When we were putting the article together we were thinking of it as a 10-year vision. My greatest surprise was that technologically a lot of these pieces fell into place sooner than I expected."


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