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Semantic Web Blog Post

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The Semantic Web

The Semantic Web, or what is sometimes referred to as Web 3.0, is steadily making the transition from theory to practicality. The Semantic Web is a slowly emerging set of standards and technologies designed to improve classification, access and usability of information and software services on the Internet. While the Web 2.0 evolution is largely about connecting people through social media channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs and wikis, the next generation will be about connecting information in new ways that people will find more relevant and meaningful.

Today’s Internet mainly presents content. The Semantic Web goes a step further by providing additional meaning to content. While seemingly a subtle shift, this evolution creates powerful opportunities for illuminating content and associating information with other relevant resources on the Web.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the focal point for Semantic Web developers from industry and academia and describes the Semantic Web as a common framework for data sharing. This framework can accommodate many roles, but the two functions that stand out from all others are describing data so users can more easily find meaningful information through Web searches, and describing applications or similar online services so that other applications and services can more easily identify how they work or offer inter-operability in order to provide synergistic or extended functionality for user requests.

According to Michael Cataldo, CEO at Cambridge Semantics, a two-year-old company that focuses on semantic technology, “The first step is to make data available by description.” To this end, there will be a heavy reliance on metadata tagging. Often referred to as data describing data, the tags encoded into content provide a systemic description that improves Web search meaning and results. The W3C has advanced the Resource Description Framework (RDF) as the standard for describing things such as documents, images and people. Another progressive specification called Web Ontology Language provides more detailed metadata description by permitting systems to infer additional information based on the data explicitly provided.

As Web resources become better defined, searches will produce more meaningful answers, said Doug Chabot, Vice President at QinetiQ Mission Solutions Group. “We expect the Web to understand our context so well that it predicts what we really mean in our queries," said Chabot.

In its second role, the Semantic Web serves as both a web service and an application integration vehicle. It does this by using metadata that lets one service interpret the meaning of the data it receives from another service. This shared understanding advances today’s mash-ups and online ecosystems to link disparate services for common purposes in an open industry technology standard. While the Semantic Web seems futuristic to most, several new technology pioneers are demonstrating significant value and payback today. Cambridge Semantics has demonstrated how its semantic technology can combine data from and the US Census Bureau to compare recovery spending with citizen population distributions. In this particular example, Cambridge then uses its Anzo for Excel product, which semantically enables the data in Excel spreadsheets, allowing the user to link them, create RDFs based on the content, and make the content usable with other semantically tagged data.

In another example, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston developed a semantics-based Situational Awareness and Preparedness for Public Health Incidences Using Reasoning Engines system. The bio-surveillance online system provided vast amounts of useful information and further spawned three additional semantic technology projects. Those spin-off projects included the Biomedical Language Understanding and Extraction System, a clinical processing application, and a Survey On Demand System, which Harris County, Texas uses to collect and correlate data to support its influenza and pandemic preparedness efforts.

Mainstream market adoption is probably at least four to five years away as information sources, Web sites and Web browsers need to be revamped and enhanced with new capabilities to truly take advantage of the Semantic Web. Further, at this point businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the new technology, however, for the most part are simply monitoring the situation from the sidelines as the technology matures. In all likelihood, the Semantic evolution will likely become a revolution once a few ‘killer apps’ put the new technology’s capabilities in the hands of the beneficiaries.

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