The Semantic Web is an evolving extension of the World Wide Web in which the semantics of information and services on the web is defined, making it possible for the web to understand and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web content.[1][2] It derives from World Wide Web Consortium|W3C director Tim Berners-Lee|Tim Berners-Lee's vision of the Web as a universal medium for data, information, and knowledge exchange.[3]

At its core, the semantic web comprises a set of design principles,[4] collaborative working groups, and a variety of enabling technologies. Some elements of the semantic web are expressed as prospective future possibilities that have yet to be implemented or realized.[2] Other elements of the semantic web are expressed in formal specifications.[5] Some of these include Resource Description Framework (RDF), a variety of data interchange formats (e.g. Resource Description Framework (RDF)/XML, Notation 3|N3, Turtle (syntax), N-Triples), and notations such as RDF Schema (RDFS) and the Web Ontology Language (OWL), all of which are intended to provide a formal description of concepts, terms, and relationships within a given knowledge domain.


Humans are capable of using the Web to carry out tasks such as finding the Finnish word for "cat", reserving a library book, and searching for a low price on a DVD. However, a computer cannot accomplish the same tasks without human direction because web pages are designed to be read by people, not machines. The semantic web is a vision of information that is understandable by computers, so that they can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding, sharing and combining information on the web.

Tim Berners-Lee originally expressed the vision of the semantic web as follows[6]:

“I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.” Tim Berners-Lee, 1999

Semantic publishing will benefit greatly from the semantic web. In particular, the semantic web is expected to revolutionize scientific publishing, such as real-time publishing and sharing of experimental data on the Internet. This simple but radical idea is now being explored by W3C HCLS group's Scientific Publishing Task Force.

“People keep asking what Web 3.0 is. I think maybe when you've got an overlay of scalable vector graphics - everything rippling and folding and looking misty - on Web 2.0 and access to a semantic Web integrated across a huge space of data, you'll have access to an unbelievable data resource.” Tim Berners-Lee A 'more revolutionary' Web

Relationship to the Hypertext Web Edit

Markup Edit

Many files on a typical computer can be loosely divided into documents and data. Documents like mail messages, reports, and brochures are read by humans. Data, like calendars, address books, playlists, and spreadsheets are presented using an application program which lets them be viewed, searched and combined in many ways.

Currently, the World Wide Web is based mainly on documents written in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), a markup convention that is used for coding a body of text interspersed with multimedia objects such as images and interactive forms. Metadata tags, for example <meta name="keywords" content="computing, computer studies, computer"><meta name="description" content="Cheap widgets for sale"><meta name="author" content="Hack's Hardware"> provide a method by which computers can categorize the content of web pages.

The semantic web takes the concept further; it involves publishing the data in a language, Resource Description Framework (RDF), specifically for data, so that it can be categorized as human perception and be "understood" by computers. So all data is not only stored, but filed and well handled.

HTML describes documents and the links between them. RDF, by contrast, describes arbitrary things such as people, meetings, or airplane parts.

For example, with HTML and a tool to render it (perhaps Web browser software, perhaps another user agent), one can create and present a page that lists items for sale. The HTML of this catalog page can make simple, document-level assertions such as "this document's title is 'Widget Superstore'". But there is no capability within the HTML itself to assert unambiguously that, for example, item number X586172 is an Acme Gizmo with a retail price of €199, or that it is a consumer product. Rather, HTML can only say that the span of text "X586172" is something that should be positioned near "Acme Gizmo" and "€ 199", etc. There is no way to say "this is a catalog" or even to establish that "Acme Gizmo" is a kind of title or that "€ 199" is a price. There is also no way to express that these pieces of information are bound together in describing a discrete item, distinct from other items perhaps listed on the page.

Descriptive and extensible Edit

The semantic web addresses this shortcoming, using the descriptive technologies Resource Description Framework (RDF) and Web Ontology Language (OWL), and the data-centric, customizable Extensible Markup Language (XML). These technologies are combined in order to provide descriptions that supplement or replace the content of Web documents. Thus, content may manifest as descriptive data stored in Web-accessible databases, or as markup within documents (particularly, in Extensible HTML (XHTML) interspersed with XML, or, more often, purely in XML, with layout/rendering cues stored separately). The machine-readable descriptions enable content managers to add meaning to the content, i.e. to describe the structure of the knowledge we have about that content. In this way, a machine can process knowledge itself, instead of text, using processes similar to human deductive reasoning and inference, thereby obtaining more meaningful results and facilitating automated information gathering and research by computers.

Skeptical reactionsEdit

Practical feasibility Edit

Critics question the basic feasibility of a complete or even partial fulfillment of the semantic web. Some develop their critique from the perspective of human behavior and personal preferences, which ostensibly diminish the likelihood of its fulfillment (see e.g., metacrap). Other commentators object that there are limitations that stem from the current state of software engineering itself (see e.g., Leaky abstraction).

Where semantic web technologies have found a greater degree of practical adoption, it has tended to be among core specialized communities and organizations for intra-company projects.[7] The practical constraints toward adoption have appeared less challenging where domain and scope is more limited than that of the general public and the World-Wide Web.[7]

An unrealized idea Edit

The original 2001 Scientific American article by Berners-Lee described an expected evolution of the existing Web to a Semantic Web.[8] Such an evolution has yet to occur. Indeed, a more recent article from Berners-Lee and colleagues stated that: "This simple idea, however, remains largely unrealized." [9] Nonetheless, the recognized authorities in the Semantic Web keep asserting the feasibility of the original idea, and sometimes they even claim that many of the components of the initial vision have already been deployed.

Censorship and privacy Edit

Enthusiasm about the semantic web could be tempered by concerns regarding censorship] and privacy. For instance, text-analyzing techniques can now be easily bypassed by using other words, metaphors for instance, or by using images in place of words. An advanced implementation of the semantic web would make it much easier for governments to control the viewing and creation of online information, as this information would be much easier for an automated content-blocking machine to understand. In addition, the issue has also been raised that, with the use of FOAF files and geo location meta-data, there would be very little anonymity associated with the authorship of articles on things such as a personal blog.

Doubling output formats Edit

Another criticism of the semantic web is that it would be much more time-consuming to create and publish content because there would need to be two formats for one piece of data: one for human viewing and one for machines. However, many web applications in development are addressing this issue by creating a machine-readable format upon the publishing of data or the request of a machine for such data. The development of microformats has been one reaction to this kind of criticism.

Specifications such as eRDF and RDFa allow arbitrary RDF data to be embedded in HTML pages. The GRDDL (Gleaning Resource Descriptions from Dialects of Language) mechanism allows existing material (including microformats) to be automatically interpreted as RDF, so publishers only need to use a single format, such as HTML.

Need Edit

The idea of a 'semantic web' necessarily coming from some marking code other than simple HTML is built on the assumption that it is not possible for a machine to appropriately interpret code based on nothing but the order relationships of letters and words. If this is not true, then a 'semantic web' may be possible built on HTML alone, making a specially built 'semantic web' coding system unnecessary.

There are latent dynamic network models that can, under certain conditions, be 'trained' to appropriately 'learn' meaning based on order data, in the process 'learning' relationships with order (a kind of rudimentary working grammar). See for example latent semantic analysis.

Components Edit

The semantic web comprises the standards and tools of XML, XML Schema, Resource Description Framework(RDF), RDF Schema and Web Ontology Language (OWL). The OWL Web Ontology Language Overview] describes the function and relationship of each of these components of the semantic web:

  • XML provides an elemental syntax for content structure within documents, yet associates no semantics with the meaning of the content contained within.
  • XML Schema is a language for providing and restricting the structure and content of elements contained within XML documents.
  • Resource Description Framework is a simple language for expressing data models, which refer to objects ("Resource (Web)|resources") and their relationships. An RDF-based model can be represented in XML syntax.
  • RDF Schema is a vocabulary for describing properties and classes of RDF-based resources, with semantics for generalized-hierarchies of such properties and classes.
  • Web Ontology Language adds more vocabulary for describing properties and classes: among others, relations between classes (e.g. disjointness), cardinality (e.g. "exactly one"), equality, richer typing of properties, characteristics of properties (e.g. symmetry), and enumerated classes.
  • SPARQL is a protocol and query language for semantic web data sources.

Current ongoing standardizations include:

  • Rule Interchange Format (RIF) as the Rule Layer of the Semantic web stack

The intent is to enhance the usability and usefulness of the Web and its interconnected resource (computer science)|resources through:

  • servers which expose existing data systems using the RDF and SPARQL standards. Many converters to RDF exist from different applications. Relational databases are an important source. The semantic web server attaches to the existing system without affecting its operation.
  • documents "marked up" with semantic information (an extension (extension of the HTML tags used in today's Web pages to supply information for Web search engines using web crawlers). This could be machine-understandable information about the human-understandable content of the document (such as the creator, title, description, etc., of the document) or it could be purely Metadata (computing)|metadata representing a set of facts (such as resources and services elsewhere in the site). (Note that anything that can be identified with a Uniform Resource Identifier (Uniform Resource Identifier|URI) can be described, so the semantic web can reason about animals, people, places, ideas, etc.) Semantic markup is often generated automatically, rather than manually.
  • common metadata vocabularies ontologies and maps between vocabularies that allow document creators to know how to mark up their documents so that agents can use the information in the supplied metadata (so that Author in the sense of 'the Author of the page' won't be confused with Author in the sense of a book that is the subject of a book review).
  • automated agents to perform tasks for users of the semantic web using this data
  • web-based services (often with agents of their own) to supply information specifically to agents (for example, a Trust service that an agent could ask if some online store has a history of poor service or spamming).

Projects Edit

This section provides some example projects and tools, but is very incomplete. The choice of projects is somewhat arbitrary but may serve illustrative purposes.

Neurocommons Edit

The Neurocommons is an open RDF database developed by Science Commons. It was compiled from major life sciences databases with a focus on neuroscience. It is accessible via a web-based front end using the SPARQL query language.


A popular application of the semantic web is FOAF (software)|Friend of a Friend (or FoaF), which describes relationships among people and other agents in terms of RDF.


The SIOC Project - Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities provides a vocabulary of terms and relationships that model web data spaces. Examples of such data spaces include, among others: discussion forums, weblogs, blogrolls / feed subscriptions, mailing lists, shared bookmarks, image galleries.


Semantic Interoperability of Metadata and Information in unLike Environments Massachusetts Institute of Technology

SIMILE is a joint project, conducted by the MIT Libraries and MIT CSAIL, which seeks to enhance interoperability among digital assets, schemata/vocabularies/ontologies, meta data, and services..

Linking Open Data Edit

Image:Linking-Open-Data-diagram 2007-09.png|thumb|Datasets in the Linking Open Data project, as of September 2007

The Linking Open Data project is a community lead effort to create openly accessible, and interlinked, RDF Data on the Web. The data in question takes the form of RDF Data Sets drawn from a broad collection of data sources. There is a focus on the Linked Data style of publishing RDF on the Web. See #Triplify for a small plugin to expose data from your Web application as Linked Data.

The project is one of several sponsored by the W3C's Semantic Web Education & Outreach Interest Group (SWEO).

Services Edit

Notification Services Edit

Semantic Web Ping Service Edit

The Semantic Web Ping Service is a notification service for the semantic web that tracks the creation and modification of RDF based data sources on the Web. It provides Web Services for loosely coupled monitoring of RDF data. In addition, it provides a breakdown of RDF data sources tracked by vocabulary that includes: SIOC, FOAF, DOAP, RDFS, and OWL.

Piggy Bank Edit

Another freely downloadable tool is the Piggy Bank plug-in to Firefox. Piggy Bank works by extracting or translating web scripts into RDF information and storing this information on the user’s computer. This information can then be retrieved independently of the original context and used in other contexts, for example by using Google Maps to display information. Piggy Bank works with a new service, Semantic Bank, which combines the idea of tagging information with the new web languages. Piggy Bank was developed by the Simile Project, which also provides RDFizers, tools that can be used to translate specific types of information, for example weather reports for US zip codes, into RDF. Efforts like these could ease a potentially troublesome transition between the web of today and its semantic successor.

Triplify Edit

Triplify is a small plugin for database driven Web applications which:

  • exposes Resource Description Framework, Linked Data and JSON,
  • is extremely simple to configure - just provide some SQL queries, selecting the information to be exposed,
  • is complemented by a light-weight registry for RDF data sources.

Since the Web mainly consists of Web pages served by a relatively small number of Web applications (consider all the Drupal, Wordpress and MediaWiki installations) once a Triplify configuration is created it can be reused without modifications for other instances of the same Web application thus making the "semantification" of Web applications very easy.

See also Edit

Notes Edit

  1. Berners-Lee, Tim; James Hendler and Ora Lassila (May 17, 2001). "The Semantic Web". Scientific American Magazine. Retrieved on 2008-03-26. 
    This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors). Smallwikipedialogo.png
  2. 2.0 2.1 W3C Semantic Web Frequently Asked Questions. W3C. Retrieved on 2008-03-13.
  3. Herman, Ivan (2008-03-07). Semantic Web Activity Statement. W3C. Retrieved on 2008-03-13.
  4. Design Issues. W3C. Retrieved on 2008-03-13.
  5. Herman, Ivan (2008-03-12). W3C Semantic Web Activity. W3C. Retrieved on 2008-03-13.
  6. Berners-Lee, Tim; Fischetti, Mark (1999). Tim Berners Lee#Weaving the Web. HarperSanFrancisco, chapter 12. ISBN 9780062515872. 
    This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors). Smallwikipedialogo.png
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ivan Herman (2007). State of the Semantic Web. Semantic Days 2007. Retrieved on 2007-07-26.
  8. Berners-Lee, Tim. The Semantic Web. Scientific American date=2001-05-01. Retrieved on 2008-03-13.
  9. Nigel Shadbolt, Wendy Hall, Tim Berners-Lee (2006). The Semantic Web Revisited. IEEE Intelligent Systems. Retrieved on 2007-04-13.

Further reading Edit

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This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors). Smallwikipedialogo.png
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors). Smallwikipedialogo.png

External links Edit

Semantic Web Software & Demonstrations Edit

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