Driving Visualization with Semantic Web

Semantic Web, a specification born in the 1980s, has had a tumultuous history, to say the least. Lately though, it has been undergoing a sort of renaissance period, with great renewed interest and large internet voices beginning to herald the technology. The National Institute of Health, MIT, and Yahoo are all among a growing industry push for Semantic Web.

Andy
#API | Posted

Semantic Web, a specification born in the 1980s, has had a tumultuous history, to say the least. Lately though, it has been undergoing a sort of renaissance period, with great renewed interest and large internet voices beginning to herald the technology. The National Institute of Health, MIT, and Yahoo are all among a growing industry push for Semantic Web. Given the publicity surrounding Semantic Web, I thought I would take a moment to delve into why you, too, should be sitting with ears perked for news on Semantic Web.Semantic Web, a specification born in the 1980s, has had a tumultuous history, to say the least.

Lately though, it has been undergoing a sort of renaissance period, with great renewed interest and large internet voices beginning to herald the technology. The National Institute of Health, MIT, and Yahoo are all among a growing industry push for Semantic Web. Given the publicity surrounding Semantic Web, I thought I would take a moment to delve into why you, too, should be sitting with ears perked for news on Semantic Web.

Semantic Web allows programmers not only to tackle relational data problems in much more elegant ways, it allows for solutions to these problems to be created with greater speed and ease. In other cases, Semantic Web can solve longstanding problems in the computing field, especially in improving the accuracy of search results. Google may do a really good job of searching for data, but there’s a limit to just how great these search results can be.

If every site on the web were to publish data according to a Semantic Web Ontology (basically, a structured set that defines the parts that make up a website), we could create an extremely accurate search engine. And that solution wouldn’t even have to come from Google, or Microsoft or Yahoo – it could easily come from 2 kids in a garage.

This all sounds great, right?

Well, the problem, in my view, has always stemmed from needing to see the big picture to get excited about Semantic Web. There’s an obvious advantage for web developers, but there’s a huge amount of interactivity needed. If I just want my site out there, and Google is indexing it in a high placement, why do I want to worry about this funky new web standard? This viewpoint is of debatable merit, but in my mind, why get hung up on this issue when we can completely sidestep it.

What if we could create drop-in visualizations for data published for Semantic Web? What if we could add immediate value to any site that published a Semantic Web datafeed, and then on top of that, promise even greater benefits in the future? Welcome to SIMILE (http://simile.mit.edu/), an MIT project to create just the push I described.

SIMILE actually embraces a wide range of semantic data solutions, from data parsers to semantic web browsers, but they also develop a suite of visualization tools for semantic data. TimePlot is a tool that allows you to embed a slick AJAX graph on your webpage. What do you have to do to utilize this?

You simply have to include it in your page and publish a data feed formatted in a way that TimePlot can utilize. You can use this for as simple as something like plotting a quick timeline of stock prices, or as advanced as an analysis of the number of hits your website gets across a period of time.

Both of these examples are posted on the TimePlot site , and like I said, you do no coding work to produce these through, slick graphs.

Even more interesting is SIMILE’s Exhibit project.

Exhibit provides a way of creating entire interactive websites by simply providing a style (formatted HTML) and a data file.

The basic tenant of Semantic Web is defining strongly-linked, highly-relevant relational data sets, and as a consequence of that, we’re able to write tools that can interpret data with heavily reduced hand-holding in the code.

If you have a spreadsheet of data and you want it plotted on a timeline, its easy to throw that into an exhibit page. If you want that same data displayed on a map, or a table, or on a graph, no problem, just tell exhibit you want a different view of your data. Tools like this are just the beginning of what can be accomplished with Semantic Web. We could spend ages talking about whats coming down the pipeline (and a lot of it really is very exciting).

But even forgiving all that could be accomplished, what can be accomplished, right now, is very exciting. The most exciting part of all that I’ve described above isn’t even how easy it is to integrate these tools into your own site.

It’s that once you build out the integration for one of these tools, you’ve gained access to all of these tools. You’ve gained access to the wider Semantic Web, and will continue to reap the benefits with every new development that comes out of this up-and-coming field.

Welcome to the Semantic Web that works for you.

Andy