RealTime IT News

Semantic Web Taking Hold

BOSTON -- Tim Berners-Lee acknowledges that the next-generation Semantic Web is difficult to explain, but he's not concerned about the pace of its adoption.

"We're at the stage of getting people to use the Semantic Web on the small scale," the inventor of the Web said at the 10th anniversary gathering of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) here on Wednesday.

Berners-Lee, the chairman of the W3C, said the progress mirrors that of the original Web.

"[The Web] started with a little community, and it builds with a certain speed," he said. "The Semantic Web is probably the same."

That said, there are sectors that will adopt early. Bio-tech and pharmaceutical companies, which have reams of research and models to track across many departments, are already using the Semantic Web to help simplify a complex process, Berners-Lee said.

He added that there is no killer application that will drive the Semantic Web -- at least none he wants to single out for fear of pigeonholing the technology.

The Semantic Web is a concept that aims for a more intelligent online experience, where applications on computers are written to be more intuitive and accurate in processing data and finding results for end users. Berners-Lee, himself, has described it as a "giant database."

The idea behind the Semantic Web is to give data more meaning through the use of metadata , which describes how, when and by whom a particular set of data was collected, and how that data is formatted.

By adding metadata to the current Web, the Semantic Web can allow people and machines to make use of data in ways that previously haven't been possible.

Another speaker at the W3C event, Bill Ruh, a senior director at networking company Cisco , said convincing corporate CEOs to adopt the Semantic Web is a matter of speaking their language.

He said that launching into a discussion about the underpinnings of the Semantic Web, such as the Resource Description Framework and the Web Ontology Language, is not an effective pitch for CEOs.

"It's not an easy description, and [CEOs] don't always understand it," said Ruh, echoing Berners-Lee's sentiments. He instead tries to show how the Semantic Web can solve business problems.

For example, regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley are typically about linking data and processes -- something that the Semantic Web is well-equipped to handle, Ruh said.

Or it can answer questions such as: "Who is our largest customer?" "How much revenue do they do with us across all our divisions?" "Which salespeople have the most contact with them?"

Despite a push for greater interoperability among ERP systems, accounting and billing software and personal contacts applications, many executives can't compile that information quickly, Ruh said.