Emergence of the Semantic Web - dummies

By Thomas C. Hammergren

In the world of computer science, semantics are relatively new, especially as relating to data warehousing. Semantics is the study of meaning in communication, including the meaning (or an interpretation of the meaning) of a word, sign, or sentence.

How many times in the middle of an argument have you heard the phrase, “Let’s not argue about semantics”? Linguists and semanticists have been dealing with semantics for a long time.

In May 2001, Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler, and Ora Lassila authored an article in the magazine Scientific American titled “The Semantic Web.” Between the Semantic Web article being published in 2001 and now, what technical innovation has emerged?

The answer is Web 3.0, although many of you might not have heard of this version of the Web. The Semantic Web is really no different than the current Web, aside from agents, or programs that do work on your behalf (and which can now surf the Web, too). Just what you wanted, your programs wasting time trying to find something out there!

This third generation of the World Wide Web will be filled with Internet-based services that collectively comprise what you might call The Intelligent Web. Technologies and techniques, such as the Semantic Web, natural language search, data-mining, machine learning, recommendation agents, and artificial intelligence technologies will formulate the foundation of Web 3.0 and emphasize machine-facilitated understanding of information in order to provide a more productive and intuitive user experience.

You can already see small samples of what will come with Web 3.0 in the form of mash-ups. In Web development, a mash-up is an application that combines data from more than one source into a single integrated tool; for example, Google Maps uses geospatial map data to add location information to real-estate data, thereby creating a new and distinct Web service that neither source originally provided.

Many people are experimenting with mash-ups by using Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Flickr, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and YouTube APIs. Examples of mash-ups include

  • The Chicago Police Department CLEARMAP Crime Summary: This mash-up application summarizes crime data by using mapping software to help warn citizens of high crime areas within the city

  • Flickrvision: This mash-up application combines the power of mapping software with a popular photo sharing site. The applications are separate and distinct, but by using APIs and semantics, they integrate to provide you with a very unique experience that neither of the application originators intended:

This level of innovation demonstrates what’s possible with technology, and both data warehousing and business intelligence platforms can really benefit from enhancement through semantics. The biggest challenge involves the need for openness among the community of vendors.

Think of a world in which you can use Cognos query and reporting tools against a Business Objects Universe running on a Composite Software federated data access layer, which accesses data from your data warehouse and various streams of information from the World Wide Web — presenting the final results on a Google Map. The world is headed in this widely distributed, yet easily integrated direction in the not too distant future!