The next stage of the Internet has been lurking around the corner for a long time and often referred to as the “semantic web”. The concepts behind the semantic web are purported to have been in Tim Berners-Lee’s original intention for the Internet over 15 years ago. I suspect that means they were academically interesting, but technically impractical at the time. While I am certainly not qualified to predict exactly when this vision of the semantic web will be fulfilled as a technical reality, I can tell you about it’s enormous potential.
I already see it taking over more and more of what we do at Phase2 as online publishers and content management users recognize its importance. This starts with tagging, taxonomies, and social bookmarking like you see on del.icio.us.
Publishers and news aggregators are particularly interested in this as it helps to manage their enormous amounts of content.
That is how we found Calais and developed a Drupal module for it.
To read more about the technical aspects of it, see Calais – The Why And The How.
The most relevant question I have been asked by our clients is “...how is this concept of the semantic web different than the web we use now?...”
Let me take a stab at that.
First, the semantic web is not just a collection of documents, images, or videos like web pages and YouTube give us now. The semantic web is about context. How are things related and why? This is a concept that seems related to our current model of linking related pages, tagging, categorization, etc. but on a macro scale, it has much greater value and potential to transform how the web as a whole serves our needs.
The semantic web is not about linking between web pages. It is about finding that context between pieces of information on sites that a computer can understand an interpret the way we do naturally. Applying metadata gives us descriptive information so things are “self defining”.
I see this as similar to the concept of OpenID – wherever I go I can tell you who I am and you can derive descriptive information about me.
The main technology for semantic web content exchange to watch here (I am told by those smarter than me) is the continued development and extended use of Resource Description Framework (RDF). Like the concept of the semantic web, this is a standard developed a long time ago by the W3C for describing things on the web with context, such as the title, author, location, etc. At the time it was deemed too complicated and not widely used or understood, but it did give way to simpler forms of XML that we could do something with (e.g. RSS).
If RDF was used everywhere on the web to describe everything, then web applications could collect and make use of this information from a variety of different places; and combine it to draw meaningful relationships and relevancy between historically unconnected resources.
I am keeping my eyes peeled for what all of that means for users and developers of web applications. I don’t know how long or what it will take, or who will make this a reality, but I suspect it is coming sooner than we think…