ACW - November 18-24 2002 Page 17
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World Wide Web has changed the way we do business. But there is something
missing from the equation. We have more data than ever, with everything
from sales records to engineering specs available online, but finding the
needle in the Web haystack is not getting easier.
trick may be to build a new Web based on the meanings and syntax of our
language but invisible to the humans who speak it. This world, dubbed the
Semantic Web by the researchers and academics who are planning it, is
meant for machines, not people. The goal is to allow computers to process
and move words and data, as well as understand them.
the last seven years, the Web has been very focused on giving value to
human eyeballs," says Prabhakar Raghavan, CTO at
knowledge-management software company Verity. "Over the next seven
years, the interesting eyeballs will belong to computers."
be accurate, the Semantic Web is an extension of today's Web. Championed
by the father of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee, it will probably
take the form of specialised tags inserted inside HTML documents that
identify the page and help computers understand what it is about.
XML and other Web services supposed to let computers talk directly to
one another, you might ask? That's true, but the Semantic Web is being
built to push that concept further.
by itself lets machines identify information within narrowly defined
boundaries for example, go to Web sites and download something labelled as
"price" : But a Semantic Web service knows that
"price" can be the same thing as "cost", that it can
be measured in "dollars", and take the form of "$X,XXX.XX".
reason is that at the heart of the Semantic Web are dictionaries that draw
direct relationships between terms. The Semantic Web knows magazines are
also called publications, that people work for a company, and so on. Any
program running a semantic search would see the tags in a document and
access a dictionary to define them and figure out relationships before
proceeding-like when you type www.informationweek.com in your
browser, and the program accesses a dictionary, or name server, to find
out what computer actually hosts that site.
Semantic Web is an interesting evolutionary step, but it's dealing with a
problem that we've been addressing for years now the increasing amount of
unstructured data within businesses," says Ron Kolb, director of
and students at the R.H. Smith School of Business at the University of
Maryland are in the final stages of testing an integrated portal using
and faculty identify a number of concepts and ideas related to their
course of study. Next, automated agents search data sources on the Web,
crawling through legal news, filings, and so on, reading each document and
quickly summarising its content.
a document seem relevant to someone's research, the software will make it
available to that person through the custom portal. Though the school is
just finishing testing, the portal has already proven beneficial.
Sandor Boyson says: "It's increased our ability to provide support to
our faculty and be at the cutting edge in terms of research." Though
he is experimenting with emerging portal technology, Boyson does not
expect much from the Semantic Web soon. "To talk about this sort of
gigantic interoperability is premature," he says.
any computing environment, in order for the Semantic Web to succeed, a
critical mass of users and vendors need to agree on standards and
protocols for how it will work.
technology managers are familiar with XML, a tagging language that defines
data in Web pages and documents. It will be the first step toward making
the Semantic Web work, acting as the underlying standard for writing tags.
this does not mean that because XML is involved, the Semantic Web is just
a fancy name for Web services. It is more of a way for businesses to
continue leveraging and benefiting from XML, says IBM's Mattos.
services will remain a piece of the larger Semantic Web but not the whole,
he says. Beyond XML, developers must agree on a common vocabulary or
framework to define different semantic concepts.
why should technology managers pay attention? Enigmatec's Johnson-Watt
says IT will be expected to identify opportunities it creates.
departments "are lightning rods for the business. And if the Semantic
Web is delivered, it will mark a major change in the way businesses
think", he says.
World Wide Web Consortium's Semantic Web lead, Eric Miller, says business
technology executives should try early elements to see if the consortium
is on the right track in developing useful business tools. "Take them
for a test drive, give feedback, help explain where you ran into
problems," Miller says.
sounds a little altruistic, but we believe all ships are going to rise on
this, and the sooner they rise, the more financially beneficial it will be
for all. Try to realise that your data is far more important than the
application that accesses it."
Semantic Web is one of those business-changing ideas that leaders need to
start getting their minds around today, LiveWire Logic's Lester says.
"It's hard to imagine, in much the same way that 10 years ago it would have been hard for us to imagine the impact that the Web has had on commerce," he says. "But this is going to have a similar impact."