Business Communication Innovation Social Media & Social Networking Technology

Semantic Web as the "killer app", Part 2

If the current iteration of the web is about Social Media, Social Networking and the ownership of our data, then the next iteration of the web will stand for the personalization of our data. But our data won’t just be personalized, this data will be smart enough to know when to go beyond mere data and become information…

In the first installment, I discussed how the search engines will need to adapt to a world of increased ‘de facto’ relevance, and how our data will eventually become deeply personalized.

If you want me to find you a new car, a T-shirt, or some wallpaper, by using Google, Yahoo! or MSN, I could do that easily. But I’d most likely need to know what colour you had in mind, first.

That’s a simplification of things, but it’s where the current thinking of personalization hits a wall, and I call this the Search Information Paradox:

“There’s no way around with this particular search information paradox, one not solved by any purely observation routines and algorithms that Google et al might have in place … ‘it’s not so much a question of the search engines knowing more about you and what you want, but more about the search engines knowing what you’re doing and what you want the information for.

In the real world, you start a complex question with some background information. So if the search engines want to be as smart people, then people have to be prepared to take the extra time and make the extra effort.’”

So even with the Semantic Web in place, there’s still a need to describe – even if only in broad terms – what it is that we do for a living, what music we listen to, what movie genres, what food, drink et cetera.

As an aside, data and information most certainly are not the same thing. They are not in any way synonymous, either.

At one end, data is the raw, often disorganized mass of numbers and figures. Whereas information is that same data transformed into something meaningful.

Put more simply, data is to bricks what information is to houses.

Knowing me, knowing you

I don’t see the likes of Digg,, Reddit or StumbleUpon suddenly vanishing into the deep shadows created in the afterglow of the birth of the Semantic Web.

Instead, their methods for categorization would become much more precise and the kind of things that would interest us would form around us, since we would be better able to: 1. describe what kind of content we’re interested in, and 2. sort, manipulate and then rank those found sources of content by a variety of criteria, and finally 3. matched against people we know and the people we’d like to know.

Additionally, I see some another driving force that would become more relevant and most likely coincide with the emergence of the Semantic Web, and that would be some proper, unified, agreed upon and secure means of identifying ourselves on the web.

I’ve said enough recently about Social Networks and the overabundance thereof. But the issue of personal portable profiles is a serious one we need to get to grips with.

Leaving that topic aside – as I feel I’ve said enough before now to warrant an extension to the Library of Congress to house my many meandering missives – I can assume you’ve either read my previous stuff, or you know enough to feel comfortable with the rest of what I will be saying.

However, if you’d like another take on the problems associated with the proliferation of Social Networks, fee free to read on.

Web2.0 – the poor mans Semantic Web

Yes, “Web2.0” is sort of the poor mans Semantic Web, but it’s only a stop gap. Lots of small applications currently act as intermediaries to support the storage and the transaction of data needed to make Web2.0 work, which isn’t ideal.

However, this isn’t to say these facilitators of data wouldn’t still be needed. Instead, these web applications would base their appetite for data on a menu of likes & dislikes, as outlined in our personal profiles.

And because these applications would themselves present the data we allow them to store and share on our behalf in a semantic way, the whole nature of the web would be massively reciprocal.

Indeed, this data would be subject to a number of rules, or policies, which we would dictate through our personal profiles – that the data acquired by any web application:

  1. be subject to an optional expiry date, or a period within which the data we share is valid;
  2. that we control what aspects of our data are stored for how long;
  3. which parts of our data are shared and for how long;
  4. with whom we share our data, or allow our data to be stored with.

These aren’t complex ideas, either. This is exactly the kind of thing you’re going to see when using Facebook of Xing to sort and manage your list of contacts.

But the real power here is in knowing that with each Social Media or Social Networking portal supporting one common portable profile format – like OpenID, for example – the people you meet on Facebook would have some kind of access to you and your content on StumbleUpon.

Rather than each Social Media or Social Networking portal having to concern themselves with the minutia of the mundane personal stuff, they can then concentrate on their core competencies.

A website or widget for every occasion

Cast your mind into the near future, and imagine having your portable personal profile, describing you to the fullest. Web3.0 us upon us, along with the attendant semantic goodness, making web pages relevant, specific and more meaningful.

Finding like-minded people is a cinch / doddle, because you don’t need to go out and find the Social Media or Social Networking portals that match your tastes. They already know what they are and what they offer, and you know what you want, so it’s a simple case of choosing the right place for you.

You sign in with your universal username & password, assign a temporary access of your personal profile to your chosen web venue, look around, see which friends are already in there (if any) and decide whether you want to make your stay permanent.

Gone are the days of signing up, confirming challenge-response emails, filling out a profile page, only to discover you don’t like this new place at all and then realizing that removing yourself and your data isn’t exactly a straight-forward process.

This is where the Semantic Web itself is the “killer app”…

Go to part 1, part 3

Recommended reading

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.

3 replies on “Semantic Web as the "killer app", Part 2”

Semantics is coming to music search any time soon thanks for academic researchers in the US. I just mentioned this in my Geeky Bits microblog, but here is the direct link.


I think semantics is relevant to lots of things, as you guys will no doubt be able know.

I think the more specific you get about a thing — such as music — the more the whole semantic thing will make sense to the average person.

Stuff will just get found more easily.

And as Heidi points out, there’s already people thinking about (and doing) the kind of specifics we may well enjoy in the near future.

[A note for the passing visitor: David is a science writer and Heidi holds a senior web development, marketing & communications at a university in the US. So yes, they know their stuff!]

Comments are closed.