Digital Directions: The Semantic Web
It has been a decade since Berners-Lee presented this vision, and the Semantic Web is yet to be. The content on the Web is still, for the most part, in human language, undecipherable by software. While there has been much research on semantic technologies, they have not been widely deployed over the last 10 years. HTML took only a couple of years to become a global standard.
What Currently Exists
Was Berners-Lee wrong about the Semantic Web? To begin to answer that, we can first examine what methods have evolved to manage and extract value from the content on the Web.
• Search Engines: Search engines, principally Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Live Search, are the primary means for exploring content on the Web. A search engine’s results are semantically “fuzzy” or imprecise, because a search engine indexes words and not their meanings: “apple” will return search results with both fruit and computers. Inexact or not, search engines provide tremendous value and, for many, structure the Web experience.
• Folksonomies: In the current Web 2.0 era, communities of users dynamically submit content to share with others on the Web. The user creates and assigns labels to the content. These labels, or “tags,” describe the subject matter and help connect it with other content. This is similar in principal to the application of tags within the Semantic Web model, with an important distinction: The Semantic Web only uses tags from a standard taxonomy of terms, a “controlled vocabulary.” Web 2.0 tags are typically user-defined, uncontrolled and are referred to as being within a “folksonomy.” A folksonomy is inexact because one user’s tags will likely not correspond with another’s. Folksonomies, therefore, cannot be used efficiently by software. A person is still required to interpret them. Like search results, folksonomies are “fuzzy,” but sometimes “fuzzy” is good enough.