Wednesday, April 09, 2008

7 Things You Need to Know about the Semantic Web

Over at Read/Write Web, Alex Iskold has come up with what I consider a seminal piece in the Semantic Web literature. In Semantic Web Patterns: A Guide to Semantic Technologies, Iskold synthesizes the main concepts of the Semantic Web, asserting that it offers improved information discoverability, automation of complex searches, and innovative web browsing. Here’re the main themes:

(1) Bottom-Up vs. Top-Down – Do we focus on annotating information in pages (using RDF) so that it is machine-readable in top-down fashion? Or do focus on leveraging information in existing web pages so that they meaning can be derived automatically (folksonomies) in a botton-up approach? Time will tell.

(2) Annotation Technologies – RDF, Microformats, and Meta Headers. The more annotations there are in web pages, the more standards are implemented, and the more discoverable and powerful information becomes.

(3) Consumer and Enterprise – People currently don’t care much for the Semantic Web because all they look for is utility and usefulness. Until an application can be deemed a “killer application,” we continue to wait.

(4) Semantic APIs – Unlike Web 2.0 APIs which are coding used to mash up existing services, Semantic APIs take as an input unstructured information and relationships to find entities and relationships. Think of them as mini natural language processing tools. Take a look.

(5) Search Technologies – The sobering fact is that it’s a growing realization that understanding semantics wont’ be sufficient to build a better search engine. Google does a fairly good job at finding us the capital city of Canada, so why do we need to go any further?

(6) Contextual Technologies - Contextual navigation does not improve search, but rather short cuts it. It takes more guessing out of the equation. That's where the Semweb will overtake Google.

(7) Semantic Databases – The challenge of keeping up with the world is common to all database approaches, which are effectively information silos. That’s where semantic databases come in, as focus on annotating web information to be more structured. Take a look at Freebase.

As librarians and information professionals, we gather, organize, and disseminate. The challenge will be to do this as information is exploding at an unprecedented rate in human history, all the while trying to stay afloat and explaining to our users the technology. Feels like walking on water, don’t you agree?

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