The Semantic Web is an extension of today’s Web rather than an entirely new one. Championed by the father of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, it will probably take the form of specialized tags inserted inside HTML documents that don’t just identify the page but also help computers understand what it’s about. “It’s annotating any form of content, any type of data, with additional semantic relationships that are machine processible, so a machine can infer a little more about what’s contained in that content,” says Alexander Linden, director of emerging trends and technology at market-analysis firm Gartner.
At the heart of the Semantic Web are dictionaries that draw direct relationships between terms. The Semantic Web knows magazines are also called publications, people work for a company, and so on. Any program running a semantic search would see the tags in a document and access a dictionary to define them and figure out relationships before proceeding — like when you type http://www.informationweek.com in your browser, and the program accesses a dictionary, or name server, to find out what computer actually hosts that site.
The ability to find information more easily won’t just make life easier but should provide distinct returns for businesses. “If search gets better, people are going to be able to find you easier, and your employees are going to be more productive,” says Alden Hart, CTO of the Adrenaline Group, a technology consulting firm.
Consider the hypothetical case of an automobile manufacturer that needs to find the perfect part for a new car it’s developing. The carmaker could instruct a semantic search tool to find nuts that are lightweight, very resistant to heat, of a certain size, cost less than a penny, and can be delivered at the same time each week. By accessing the relatable semantic tags in product catalogs from a variety of suppliers, a program could compare, contrast, and evaluate the options, presenting the carmaker with a list of nuts that best meet its criteria. That wouldn’t be possible without semantic tags, says Eric Miller, Semantic Web activity lead for the World Wide Web Consortium. “Not everyone says a ‘cog’ is a ‘cog,'” he says.