W3C brings Semantic Web closer to reality

The Semantic Web, an extension of the World Wide Web, is becoming a reality with standards that are being implemented in and applications by IBM, Boeing, Adobe and others, according to Eric Miller of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Final W3C approval earlier this month of two key Semantic Web technologies, the Web Ontology Language (OWL) and the revised Resource Description Framework (RDF), is "a huge step forward" for the Semantic Web, he said.

OWL provides a standard way to define Web-based ontologies so data can be described as what it is -- an enzyme in a biological application or a hotel in a travel industry application -- instead of as a document in a tree structure or other database abstraction. RFD is a set of rules for providing simple descriptive information in XML for implementation in library catalogs and worldwide directories, as well as for syndication and aggregation of software, news and other content.

With the two standards enabling the Semantic Web, knowledge workers will be able to gather specific syndicated information from a series of Web sites without having to visit each one, explained Miller, who is the W3C Semantic Web Activity Lead. This will be far more efficient than using current search engines that return 30 pages of possible Web sites to visit and peruse for relevant information, he added.

"What we're trying to do here is put in place some basic frameworks for supporting better discovery, reuse, navigation and management of data," he told XML Report.

Miller said that with the standards in place and in use in companies such as IBM, Adobe and Sun Microsystems, he expects to see further innovation as IT organizations see the potential of the technology. "We're seeing query and rule languages that are already at work now on the Semantic Web, but I suspect we'll see the convergence of all that work," he said.

In endorsing the new W3C standards, Alfred Spector, vice president, services and software for IBM research, noted that Big Blue already has a public Semantic Web project, SnoBase, up on its alphaWorks Web site. He described it as "a framework for loading ontologies from files and using the Internet for locally creating, modifying, querying and storing ontologies." Ontologies being the key to the Semantic Web, he said, SnoBase provides "a mechanism for querying ontologies and an easy-to-use programming interface for interacting with vocabularies of standard ontology specification languages, including RDF, RDF Schema and OWL."

IBM researchers believe this will have "a broad range of business applications" allowing for sharing and reusing of information, as well as navigating and managing data, Spector concluded.

The W3C's Miller cautioned against the mistaken idea that the Semantic Web is somehow a replacement for the current Web, both of which are the brain children of W3C founder and director Tim Berners-Lee.

"This is an extension to the current Web," Miller said. "We're not designing the Semantic Web to replace the [current] Web. It's not that in January 2005 we'll turn the current Web off and turn the Semantic Web on. But rather [the goal is] to layer and weave meaning into the current Web to make it a more effective place where people can share, reuse and recombine the data that they're creating."

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About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.