The Semantic Web

By Deane Barker on June 2, 2003

The Semantic Web: This is one of the terms that’s been lurking on the periphery of my mind for about a year. I keep hearing it and meaning to look into it. Today I stumbled onto a good article about The Semantic Web and what it means.

Most of the Web’s content today is designed for humans to read, not for computer programs to manipulate meaningfully. Computers can adeptly parse Web pages for layout and routine processing — here a header, there a link to another page — but in general, computers have no reliable way to process the semantics […] The Semantic Web will bring structure to the meaningful content of Web pages, creating an environment where software agents roaming from page to page can readily carry out sophisticated tasks for users.

The article begins with an extended example of a situation where The Semantic Web would bring value: Pete and Lucy trying to line up medical treatment for their sick mother. The concept is appealing, but I sense that this is so far in the future as to be out of sight for the time being.

There is a W3C working group and there’s a big site devoted to the concept at SemanticWeb.org. (If you just want the gist of the whole thing, read the Scientific American article to the second header.)

One of the problems that this movement will have to overcome is the “creep factor.” Having computers know that much about….stuff may creep some people out. The fact that machines are more or less oblivious to the flow of human life is a source of comfort to me, I guess.

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