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Semantic Web as the "killer app", Part 1

In it’s present form, the web is a loose collection of data islands we call websites. In a future world wide Semantic Web, would there be a need to search for anything? Maybe those things that we need would be so neatly packaged and so clearly labeled, they would find us instead…

Before I begin, a quick definition of what the Semantic Web is may help:

“The Semantic Web is a mesh of information linked up in such a way as to be easily processable by machines, on a global scale. You can think of it as being an efficient way of representing data on the World Wide Web, or as a globally linked database.”

The web is nothing without the links

With the current web, the connections between the data and the parent website, and then in turn between one website and another are tenuous at best.

Right now, if we want something, we must employ a search engine to find those things.

But there’s every chance that what we call search engines will soon have no real meaning. Since all the things we would need in our lives would aggregate around a need, a job, a task, a function or a theme.

Wouldn’t this mean the death of the search engine as we know it? Maybe so:

“If you can describe a task, and the systems into which those tasks are described are sophisticated enough, that task will ask all of the questions so we don’t have to.

Imagine that task then linked to your goals, your aims and your agendas.

You’re looking for a new job in a new city and you need a new school for your kids. There’s a bunch of tasks straight away that could all work in unison. If they’re smart enough, that is.

But I have faith. The sophistication is a challenge, but the grand prize is massive and financially hugely rewarding.”

The search engine is dead! Long live the found engine!

Think more along the lines of a found engine instead and you’re probably going to see things the same way as I do.

This thinking of mine came to a head recently in an SEOmoz article, which asked where the search engines were most likely to innovate:

“I think in time there won’t even be a need to search for stuff. Intead, stuff will discover us. The more the search engines know about our lifestyle, our likes, dislikes, work practices et cetera, the easier it is for them to auto-aggregate stuff around us so we don’t need to find things anymore…”

But how would this new breed of ‘found engines’ know what we want? Well, we’d have to describe to them what we we do in our daily lives.

Right now, there are those like me who use Social Media portals like Digg, StumbleUpon and del.icio.us to find new, interesting and topical web pages. Similarly, we use Social Networking portals like Pownce, StumbleUpon, Twitter as well as the new Digg and Streamy too, to share our stuff, our ideas and our daily activities with like-minded individuals.

More and more, these Web2.0 applications store data about us and our preferences.

We gather together and aggregate the information these web applications store, combining them in interesting ways to create our Lifestreams to share with friends, and Workstreams to share with colleagues.

But no matter how we manipulate these small web applications, they are merely islands of data – discrete and compact as they are, but ultimately isolated.

If we accept that the Semantic Web is underpinned by what can casually be referred to as smart web pages, which are able to describe themselves, then we have the basis for an idea as to what kind or class of web applications we might expect to see.

And it’s this next wave of web applications – still quite discrete and compact – that will interconnect, bridging the oceans of data between those atolls of relevancy, forming an archipelago of accurate, well-formatted, personalized information…

Go to part 2, part 3

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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