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The Web is evolving from static to Semantic
June 28, 2010
by Mark Ollig

Tim Berners-Lee’s dream was to create a universal database where information could be easily shared among everyone – anywhere they were.

Berners-Lee was instrumental in creating the original HyperText Transfer Protocol program (HTTP) and HyperText Markup Language (HTML) used between a computer’s web server and a web browser.

In his personal history Berners-Lee wrote, “. . . in 1989, while working at the European Particle Physics Laboratory, I proposed that a global hypertext space be created in which any network-accessible information could be referred to by a single “Universal Document Identifier.”

The Universal Document Identifier evolved from an application which identified a resource (or particular document) into the commonly known Uniform Resource Locator or URL, which identifies the specific address location of a file document name or web page on an Internet server.

In 1990, Berners-Lee completed his hyperlink software program code he called “WorldWideWeb” (WWW).

Simple static pages of data and information could now be accessed and associated with each other by way of hyperlinks.

In 1991, the Internet became the connecting “highway” which carried Tim Berners-Lee new hyperlinked World Wide Web solution to the public.

Today, at age 55, Tim Berners-Lee is an MIT professor. He heads what is called the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which maintains the current Web standards along with working to bring to fruition the full potential of the Web.

Recently, the W3C published information regarding the Web’s evolution into a more multifaceted design known as the Semantic Web, which Berners-Lee had envisioned as the “second part” of his original World Wide Web design.

We use a variety of search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo to perform queries for data. We simply type in a word or group of words for what we are looking for.

Some of us even use “search operators” in an effort to narrow down the search results we are presented with.

Of course, we all know what we end up seeing-once the “enter” key is pressed – an endless list of web pages with references to the word or words we typed. It is up to us to sort out what is applicable to our original intent.

Information contained in the Web, to me, is somewhat analogous to an enormous data text file filled with seemingly countless lines of programming code.

A Semantic Web would better support us in our searches, as it will be acting as an intelligent database.

A Semantic database would have the entire Web’s data information uniquely categorized.

A typical database has its information categorized by programmers. A person uses the database to access its information based upon the commands and categories programmed. If the data is not organized and updated regularly, the user will end up spending more time retrieving additional information than is actually needed. Chances are good, some of the information might end up being out-of-date, as well.

The Web we currently use simply stores its data in what has been called “information silos” meaning the information is stored in a “static-like” manner.

The Semantic Web will instantly be aware of – and will actually know – what this stored information means. It will have the ability or intelligence to comprehend how this information relates to other information stored elsewhere throughout the Web, without having to be “hyper-linked” to it.

The future Web will not have its data distributed via hyperlinks; the data contained within it will be fully integrated or “bridged” via a “standardized query language” across the entire Web.

Standards of a Semantic Web include a database which allows each person to input and control their own data contained in it. Of course, there will be rules to be followed to ensure the information being accessed or added is correctly categorized, organized, accurate, and current.

The Semantic Web is “a database where each person controls their own data,” says Sandro Hawke, systems architect at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

In 1998, Tim Berners-Lee wrote, “The web of human-readable document is being merged with a web of machine-understandable data. The potential of the mixture of humans and machines working together and communicating through the Web could be immense.”

I trust this ever-evolving Web will continue to promote greater individual independence, understanding, accomplishment, and fulfillment, not just within our own personal lives, but within the lives of all our shared communities – whether they are virtual social networks or physical geographical locations.

My personal hope is that we will continue to benefit from the resources and enrichment offered from a free, open, and maturing Internet and Web – which is not controlled or manipulated by either the government or corporations.

For more information about Semantic Web technologies, access the W3C at www.w3.org.

A link describing the original 1991 HTTP is http://tinyurl.com/5obj3z.

Time Berners-Lee website is www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee.

You can also follow my rantings on Twitter at bitsandbytes.