The Semantic Web is meant to be the successor to the web we all use and love today. Its architect is no other than the creator of the web, Tim Berners-Lee. The idea behind the Semantic Web is making it easy for machines to understand a site’s content. Web development languages today, i.e., HTML, are designed for making content easily readable by people. It is very hard for software agents to extract the semantics (or meaning) of a website since no such information can be encoded by webmasters using HTML or any other popular web development technology used today.
The new web will require a whole new set of technologies that will allow webmasters to specify the meaning of a website’s content. These technologies are Extensible HTML (XML), Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI), Resource Description Framework (RDF) and the Web Ontology Language (OWL) to name the most important ones. Every object will have a unique identifier or URI and as such an agent could uniquely refer to it. The RDF will allow developers to specify the relationships between different objects. RDF models are currently specified using XML syntax. Lastly, OWL will allow developers to create even more complex relationships among objects and also define ontologies and mappings among them so that all agents can essentially talk the same language using the same vocabulary.
Like I said earlier, the Semantic Web is about organizing the web’s information such that software agents can understand it. The information will be presented to the agent in a format that is easy to understand so that the Semantic Web is not about adding Artificial Intelligence to the current web. Once information is easily accessible by the agents, they will be able to crawl the web and use this information to assist human users in everyday activities. Such activities may include scheduling appointments and finding relevant information to a task given a person’s geographical location and time constraints. The possibilities are limitless.
One important aspect behind the semantic web is the notion of trusted sources of information. Agents will not visit websites that have not been established as trusted sources of information. This is largely different than the way today’s search engine bots crawl all websites and rank relevance of their content to a query according to keyword density. Or in other words, once the Semantic Web becomes the norm, it will be difficult for webmasters to use current search engine optimization techniques to rank high on search engines and drive free traffic to their site. This will hopefully eliminate many junk websites and of course benefit those of us who are trying to provide web users with meaningful content.
The Semantic Web, however, has one major flaw and it has nothing to do with the fundamental idea behind it but the intricate technologies that are meant to drive it. In fact, just recently during a presentation, Tim Berners-Lee was asked by Google executive and one of the top Artificial Intelligence scientists, Dr. Peter Norvig, the following, “What I get a lot is: “Why are you against the Semantic Web?” I am not against the Semantic Web. But from Google’s point of view, there are a few things you need to overcome, incompetence being the first.” He is of course referring to the difficulty of the average user and web developer to understanding and using the technologies behind the Semantic Web. The potential for abuse by mischievous webmasters is real and Google already knows all about that. One thing is for sure however and that is whether Google opposes it or not, the Semantic Web is the future even if the technologies behind it require some refinement.
So, since the Semantic Web is in our future, we should do our best to be ready for when it arrives. Try to familiarize yourselves with the correct terminology and the new technologies. Integrate them into your website or at least design it in such a way that it would be easy to make it part of the Semantic Web with little effort. There already exist search engines and tools that are capable of parsing semantic information in websites. If you are one of the early adopters of this technology, don’t be surprised if you are ahead of the pack in a couple of years. And we all know that being ahead in search engine results equals huge profits. So, what are you waiting for?