The semantic web, or web 3.0, is often quoted as the next phase of the Internet. The semantic web was envisioned as a highly interconnected network of data that could be easily accessed and understood by any desktop or handheld machine.

The future was to be full of intelligent software agents that would head out on the World Wide Web and automatically book flights and hotels for our trips, update our medical records and give us a single, customized answer to a particular question without our having to search for information.

Are we there yet? Partly.

The semantic web was visioned and created by Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler and Ora Lassila. The technologies that would be needed to make this vision come true includes: a common language for representing data that could be understood by all kinds of software agents; ontologies—sets of statements—that translate information from disparate databases into common terms; and rules that allow software agents to reason about the information described in those terms.

The data format, ontologies and reasoning software would operate like one big application on the World Wide Web, analyzing all the raw data stored in online databases as well as all the data about the text, images, video and communications the web contained. They also believed that like the Web itself, the semantic web would grow in a grassroots fashion, only this time aided by working groups within the World Wide Web Consortium, which helps to advance the global medium.

When you think of the semantic web, think of ‘intelligent applications.’ These could be as simple as smarter web browsers and e-mail clients that can understand natural language instructions and complete more complex tasks like automatically booking flights for us, emailing friends and marking our calendars.

It could be systems that can process data from multiple linked sources and arrive at something new. Like a corporate system that evaluates the areas of expertise of its employees and recommends optimal project teams. Or a knowledge-management system that can tell you whether a particular idea you just thought of is already being worked on by someone else.

The web today is mostly designed for people to understand. But the applications we use to make life easier all have a hard time making sense of information. The semantic web changes that.

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Access Innovations, the world leader in thesaurus, ontology, and taxonomy creation and metadata application.