Web 3.0 / The Semantic Web

Web 3.0 is essentially Semantic Web technologies that have been integrated into large-scale Web applications. These new technologies are based on mash-ups that occur at the data level, not the application level1. I guess we should take a step backwards and talk for a moment about what 3.0 relates to and what the Semantic Web is. Web 2.0 (obviously, the current version of the Web and the precursor to 3.0) is defined by phenomena such as the blogosphere/microblogging (everything from WordPress to Tumblr to Twitter), wikis, application-level mash-ups (for example, combining maps with a business review website so you can locate recommended salons or cafés2), and social networking1. The Semantic Web refers to the idea of a Web in which we would not have to sift through loads of data to find what we’re looking for and instead would be able to identify patterns and trends in our search results. The Web will intuit exactly what we’re searching for. The creator of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, says the Semantic Web is an extension of the current one, not a separate entity3. Tom Gruber (perhaps known to you as a cofounder of the company that created Siri, the digital personal assistant for iPhone) has said that collective knowledge is integral to achieving a Web 3.0 and that there are a few key properties of a collective knowledge system4:

  • User-generated content (blogs, comments, tweets, posts on social networking websites, et cetera)
  • Human-machine synergy (effective communication and mutual benefit between the user and the Web)
  • Increasing returns with scale (the more people that use the Web, the more information we’ll have)
  • Emergent knowledge (patterns in data become obvious and readable)

Essentially, Semantic Web technologies will serve to synthesize meaningful data from a vast array of sources5 and will work to store associations rather than individual items2.

Okay, it seems like there couldn’t possibly be anything bad about Web 3.0, right? Well, almost. There’s a “but” and a pretty big one at that. Some Semantic Web technologies are already being developed and early versions are available for use. One such example is Google’s PageRank2, a ranking system for websites. They take several factors into consideration for ranking, and one factor is the data they collect about you. You, specifically. What search queries you enter into Google, what links you click on, and what your location is all factor into delivering customized results just for you. On one hand, this eliminates the need to sift through page after page of results, but on the other hand, we are giving away our personal information and there isn’t much we can do to stop it. Also, popularity is not necessarily the best way to organize data; while it is one measure of quality, it does not necessarily indicate accuracy.

Aside from that, there are also some logistical issues. Integrating Semantic Web technologies could be challenging because each data source could differ greatly in its underlying architecture and data models, and words and terms can have myriad meanings depending on the context, so combining a large set of data sources is more difficult than searching for the same thing in each or posing the same question, and the system may make connections that aren’t actually there6. Ideally, the Semantic Web will have mechanisms to overcome this, but it does suggest that there will have to be true symbiosis between data and machine3 to make it functional.

As of yet, Web 3.0 hasn’t happened, but these technologies are on the horizon. The question is whether technologies will evolve naturally and “extract meaning from the existing Web”2 or whether everything will be redesigned. Some Semantic Web applications are already being used in some industries to do enterprise data integration7. E-mail programs are beginning to recognize dates and times and this may, according to some, signal the impending birth of 3.02. Again, some say it is already happening with sites like Flickr, Digg, and del.icio.us. You can now “tag” photos on Flickr and Facebook, making it simple for programs to identify faces and connect social networks online2. We are on the brink of a monumental change in the way we share data and “learn from each other on a global scale”8, and we’ll know we have reached this point when we see qualitative shift in the way people interact on the Web8. As we’ve recently learned, information overload is a real problem and the Semantic Web is hopefully the way to fix it. And now, we wait.

 

  1. Hendler 111
  2. Markoff
  3. Gruber 5
  4. Gruber 6
  5. Gruber 7
  6. Gruber 8
  7. Hendler 113
  8. Gruber 12
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