Crackpot tech: Semantic Web

Originally designed for document distribution, the Web has yet to realize its full potential for distributing data. XML has done its part. Yet every XML document requires an XML Schema — and relating them isn't easy. Until a viable means for surfacing and linking data is established and adopted, humans will remain the Web's core categorizing agents.

Enter the Semantic Web, an effort spearheaded by Tim Berners-Lee in 1999 to extend the Web to enable machines to take this mantle. At the outset, the idea — to transform the Web into something machines can readily analyze — seemed hopelessly academic. Yet with significant public data sets surfacing in Semantic Web form, the once crazy notion now stands to revolutionize how enterprise IT accesses and disseminates data via the Web.

RDF (Resource Description Framework) — the Semantic Web’s standard format for data interchange — extends the URI linking structure of the Web beyond naming the two ends of a link, allowing relationships among all manner of resources to be delineated. But the key to the Semantic Web — and where most people’s eyes glaze over — is its use of ontologies. If specialized communities can successfully create ontologies for classifying data within their domains of expertise, the Semantic Web can knit together these ontologies, which are written using RDF Schemas, SKOS (Simple Knowledge Organization System), and OWL (Web Ontology Language), thereby facilitating machine-based discovery and distribution of data.

Buy-in is essential to the success of the Semantic Web. And if it continues to show promise, that buy-in seems likely.

-- Martin Heller

How do you see the Semantic Web affecting the enterprise?

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