What is the Semantic Web? A Quick Definition and Overview

It’s a buzzword that’s being thrown around a lot lately, but often it’s not quite clear what people are talking about when they bring up the topic of the Semantic Web.

For one, it’s not some sort of magical new technology or a brand new version of the internet. Instead, the idea behind the Semantic Web is a World Wide Web in which computers can actually understand the meaning of the information they process.

Technologically, it is a variety of methods, languages and frameworks that combine to give information on the web a more formal and logical structure. Data will be linked together in more meaningful relationships and machines will be able to process those links and be able to understand much of its “meaning.” This will ideally automate tasks previously thought to be impossible for computers.

Basically, the current model of metadata tags in the head section and HTML hyperlinks leave much to be desired: computers can pick up very simple facts about the data it processes, such as the title of one particular item for sale, but it can not be certain of its relationship to any other relevant pieces of information, such as its price. The Semantic Web would use a combination of languages including RDF, OWL and XML to make such connections unambiguously clear for machines. Armed with this information, computers could theoretically perform some exciting new tasks, such as automatically finding the cheapest version of an item.

With the static web as the first major innovation and a dynamic, social web as Web 2.0, this innovation is touted to become Web 3.0. At this point, however, it has yet to become a reality even though much of the necessary technology is there. Major obstacles exist, including the sheer vastness of the internet, deceitful tactics on the part of webmasters and even the inherent ambiguities of human language. In the next few years, we will see if this vision can overcome these challenges.

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