Technology

Web 3.0 and the power of the semantic web

Web 3.0 describes the next evolution of the World Wide Web. The term “Web 3.0” has been around for quite some time, but what exactly does it mean? The true definition of Web 3.0 has not been clear since it was created. When trying to understand the concept, it is important to note that Web 3.0 is more of a buzzword and does not clearly define anything.

The semantic web

The term Web 3.0 is very often mentioned in conjunction with “the semantic web”. Some people refer to the semantic web as equivalent to Web 3.0, others consider the semantic web part of Web 3.0. However, what does “the semantic web” mean?

Peter Berkel has set a clever example in an attempt to make sense of the semantic web. Take the words Paris Hilton; Is there anyone thinking of the Hilton hotel in Paris? The meaning (semantics) of these two words can be interpreted in multiple ways.

To understand semantics on the web, we must also look at syntax. If we use the sentence “Mike loves Kate”, the syntax refers to the composition and structure of the sentence. The semantics indicate that Mike likes Kate very much. If we change “loves” into a heart symbol, the syntax will change but the semantics will remain the same.

In the example of Paris Hilton we see a reverse situation, in which there are multiple semantics but only one syntax.

In communication between computers on the network, syntax plays an important role. When you request that a website appear in your browser, you are actually making a request to a web server. This server looks up your request and returns it in HTML format. Your browser reads the HTML syntax and translates it into a designed page. The meaning of what is on this page will remain unknown to the computer.

The same happens when we search for information on the Internet. A search engine searches billions of pages to find the keywords you requested. It will then show you a list of pages that include the keywords you were looking for. The search engine knows what keywords are on these pages, but the actual content of the pages is unknown. This could be compared to learning a few words to a parrot, which it will replicate without knowing the actual meaning of the words.

Using this analogy, the current web can be thought of as a “document web”. All of these documents are linked to each other in one way or another, but for web applications, the content of these documents is not defined. However, the content is what interests us. These documents are about people, history, companies, countries, etc. At this time we are no longer talking about documents, but about “entities” that are within these documents. The goal of the semantic web is to allow computers to understand the entities within these documents.

So the semantic web gives meaning to the entities on web pages and the relationships between those entities. Unlike the current web, this would be a network of entities.

The benefits of the semantic web

So now that we have a better understanding of the semantic web, how can we benefit from this? Take the example of Paris Hilton. If a search engine understood that I am trying to find a Hilton hotel in Paris, all results about the celebrity Paris Hilton could be excluded. This leads to better, more accurate and faster results. This is still a simple and basic example. A next step would be an application that understands that Hilton is a hotel in Paris, which can offer me more services. If you are looking for a Hilton hotel in Paris, you can find a Hilton hotel, while a flight to Paris can be booked along with a restaurant for lunch. This makes the results of your application that much more valuable.

This may sound quite familiar; When you book a flight, you will be asked if you also want to rent a car. However, this question has been asked through the cooperation of multiple web applications. In the semantic web it is not necessary to make cooperation or agreements, since all the information is universally available.

The semantic web will have a large-scale availability of information. Broadly speaking, there are two different approaches that will lead to a semantic web: the bottom-up approach and the top-down approach.

The bottom-up approach involves adding information to all existing documents on the Internet and making them understandable to web applications. This ‘information’ describes the entities on a web page and all their relationships. This can be done through RDF or Microformats.

Supporters of the top-down approach find the bottom-up approach highly impractical. They don’t believe in a fully annotated internet. The top-down approach supports the development of applications that can have a better understanding of the data in the documents. Think of tracing the meaning of entities outside the context of a page, but mainly applications that can understand natural / logical language. Hakia (hakia.com) and (powerset.com) are search engines that try to understand English the way humans understand it.

Whichever approach is used, the web will be more meaningful and valuable. All entities will gather a cloud of attributes and relationships. One danger would be information overload. Ideally, we only want to absorb information that piques our interest. The need for “personalized information” will continue to be increasingly important.

Personal preferences

Personal preferences may be under the control of the user. The APML (Attention Profile Markup Language) working group has been working towards this concept. Your APML profile can be viewed as a file with your personal preferences. Web applications can read this file, causing your information to be filtered based on their own interests.

An even greater amount of profile information will be out of the users’ control. Right now, organizations like Google, Amazon, and Yahoo are tracking the click-through behavior of their visitors. On a semantic web, this information will be much richer. Much more is known about the people who visit your websites. Additionally, the web is becoming more ubiquitous. We are in contact with the Internet all the time and we will do it more and more; in our browser, our cell phone, our car, home devices, etc. Web applications will be able to record information everywhere. The profiles will be built full of information about you, without you noticing.

Within this new relationship between the Web and its users, marketers will have to ‘slip into someone else’s conversation’. Trademarks must be relevant to the situation, the environment and the wishes of the user. When the semantic web is realized and successful, it will create a huge burden of information exchange between organizations and individuals, producing a new level of searching and knowledge sharing.

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