The future of the web, according to some, is all about representing and linking data in such a way that it becomes 'meaningful' to computers too. The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, sketched out an architecture for this 'web of meaning' (or semantic web) and we are moving up the ladder!
These are the three main areas in which semantic web principles are applied in practice today and examples for each area will be given below:
- Enhancing general search
- Intelligent applications for specific domains
- Enriching information during content production
Enhancing general search
Google, for example, added features to help visitors formulate better queries and to display additional relevant information for certain queries. For example, when searching for "apple" on Google a few other searches are proposed as can be seen in the picture below; apple ipod, apple fruit, apple laptop. These are efforts to disambiguate the search.
Another search engine, Cuil.com is more experimental in it's layout. It presents results like a magazine and related searches are shown in several categories. For 'apple' some of these are lists of Apple software, blogs and executives.
Intelligent applications for specific domains
Some search engines are not aiming to answer all questions, but only want to offer truly relevant answers to questions for specific domains. An interesting domain in which structured data has taken flight for example is the medical domain. The existence of free medical 'special' dictionaries (taxonomies and ontologies) of high quality that are also mapped to each other are the main reason for this. Taxonomies of, for example, diseases are mapped to drugs and drugs are mapped to genes which are mapped to experts in the field. These applications aim to generate interesting knowledge such as disease X is connected to gene Y which can be influenced by drug Z. Some examples include, GoPubMed and Novoseek.
Another special domain is the recent launch of the iPhone application "Siri". Currently it is only useful in the US and it acts like a personal digital assistant (just like in the Star strek episodes). Just ask your question and relevant results appear on the screen. It ties into many web services to do it's magic!
Enriching information during content production
Some tools promise to make the content production a more rewarding process. Zemanta's tagline is "write your post, enrich with Zemanta, get more traffic!" and Apture offers bloggers and publishers to "Add multimedia on your website with one click...to keep readers on your site". Open Calais is another company which offers a range of tools to "incorporate semantic functionality on your site".
The future of the semantic web
It seems that the only way to get closer to a semantic web is to mark up all data the moment it is written. But marking up data takes time and there is currently no real incentive for authors to take this extra step. Let's hope therefore that the tools described in this post become mainstream because only the creator of a piece of content can label the meaning of things, places and people unambiguously.