semantic web

Working with the ShiftSpace team and thinking about open-source platforms and challenging the private control of space online, has made me very interested in reading about web theory and predictions for the web. So lately I have been reading about the semantic web and looking at the idea of linking data. What is the semantic web? In brief, from an article in the Scientific American, the semantic web is a possible future for the web in which computers express meaning and not just programmed relationships between objects: “Most of the Web’s content today is designed for humans to read, not for computer programs to manipulate meaningfully. Computers can adeptly parse webpages for layout and routine processing, ex: here a header, there a link to another page, but in general, computers have no reliable way to process the semantics, ex: this is the home page of the Hartman and Strauss Physio Clinic, this link goes to Dr. Hartman’s curriculum vitae.”

Here are some interesting TED talks I found on this subject, the first is from Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the www and the talk is his description of the semantic web. Tim Berners-Lee says: “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.”

The second talk is from Kevin Kelly, editor of Wired magazine, and he talks about how there is only one machine and the web is its OS, that all of our screens are just portals into the one machine, the web, and that in the future the web will extend to the material world of things and that no bits will live outside the web, that every item will be supported by linked ideas and information. As a tangent to this idea I found this example of mobile tagging, where simply pointing at an object with an embedded code can bring up a url, an example perhaps where the web and the material world can join.

Lastly, here is another interesting discussions related to this subject from Clay Shirky where he talks about how we calssify information and attempt to assert organization online. If we look at how a library is organized, a book must have a specific place on a shelf – its subject heading delineates where it lives in the library despite the fact that a single book can be about many different subjects – online, this categorization is negated as there is no shelf and a book (or a piece of information) can live in many different places simultaneously – shattered in links to many locations. Clay Shirky disccuses how attempts to organize the web are also fundamentaly connected to our particular worldviews and how we process relationships in the real world, see also here. Additionally, David Nolan told me about this book that I think beautifully describes how we understand and display information. As far as the semantic web, one example of it in practice now is DBpedia.

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