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Berners-Lee: Integrate Web services and Semantic Web

The history of computing is the history of finding ways to link data to programs, and the Semantic Web is the next step in that evolution, Tim Berners-Lee told attendees at the Gartner Web Services and Application Integration conference in Los Angeles this week.

What is the difference between the Semantic Web and all the data-based applications that have preceded it? The Semantic Web doesn't follow a document model; instead, it models real-world things, said the director of the W3C and inventor of the World Wide Web.

As defined by the W3C, "The Semantic Web is the representation of data on the World Wide Web. It is a collaborative effort led by W3C with participation from a large number of researchers and industrial partners. It is based on the Resource Description Framework (RDF), which integrates a variety of applications using XML for syntax and URIs for naming."

"The Semantic Web models real things not documents, explained Berners-Lee. "It models words not software objects." Because information is described semantically, it will be far more re-useable as applications change or are discontinued. "Data about real things will live longer than the programs," he said.

For example, where a current motor vehicle application would look for data such as a vehicle identification number, a Semantic Web application will understand what a car is, that a 1953 DeSoto is a car and that a specific car has a unique number to identify it. It will further understand that a human person is a driver with a driver's license and an ownership relationship with that specific DeSoto.

With the Semantic Web, Web services applications will be smarter and more comprehensive, said Berners-Lee, explaining how the two XML technologies will integrate.

Modeling real-world objects and not documents in the format of the Semantic Web, a motor vehicle Web services application will easily find the link between car and driver. It could also link to a photo of the driver, and the driver's license number, a photo of the car and the license plate and VIN, and the driver's address and the address where the car is registered. Describing what a car is and what a driver is, and what a photo is and how numbers are associated to them, an application could pull all these together to present a motor vehicles clerk with a complete view of a car and its owner, including photos.

The Semantic Web will advance the relational database model and overturn old ways of organizing information, Berners-Lee said. Rather than listing information in tree structures, it will create a Web based on the relationships of people, places and things as they exist in the real world.

He expressed the belief that Semantic Web technology will advance the information revolution he began with the World Wide Web changing everything from how users set up their online address books to how they pay their taxes. "The whole thing was designed to be evolvable," he said of the technologies based on XML.

To assure his audience that the technology is ready for practical uses, Berners-Lee said he did his income taxes this year, not with one of the off-the-shelf financial packages, but with a Semantic Web model of Form 1040.

Summing up how the Semantic Web will transform computing and social interactions, Berners-Lee told his audience "Your life is a Web. Your data is a Web."

More information on the Semantic Web is available at www.w3.org/2001/sw


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For more on Tim Berners-Lee and Web services standards, read "SOAP 1.2 is good to go: W3C," also by ADT's Rich Seeley.

For more XML news, go to ADT XML Page.

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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