What is needed for the semantic web to take off?

I have said before that unless we have some tools in place, the semantic web will be dead on arrival. So, instead of just complaining about it, I will start with listing the ideas that I think are needed. I hope to contribute to the development of some of this in the near future as well, so nobody can complain about me complaining and not doing anything 🙂

Linked Data

The first thing to know about is linked data. This is the core of the semantic web. The basic idea is to have some extra markup that describes a page in the semantic web space. For bloggers and other web developers, the main technology to read about is RDFa which embeds semantic web knowledge in XHTML. The Wikipedia page contains some fantastic examples of using RDFa as well. There is one problem with this idea, most people really do not want to learn another technology that really is not mainstream. We also know that even if there is some cool semantic web application, it is useless if the markup is not there. For blogs, this means there needs to be a simple way to add semantic data. My personal preference would be a plugin that generates the semantic markup based on the content. This plugin would probably use some external service like the OpenCalais API. Obviously, this is not readily useful for “standard” websites, but a similar service could be used on the server side for generated HTML or even command line processing.

The other side of the proverbial coin is what the browser does with the markup. There is some discussion about a new breed of browser, but I think that is only needed when the semantic web content is truly mainstream. For the leading edge, a Firefox plugin that is semantic web aware would be useful. It could allow you to traverse linked data, just like a web page or just view the semantic web information from the page. I think this is low hanging fruit for the semantic web crowd. Two things that I have not been able to get access to are Twine and OpenLink Data Spaces. I do not know much about Twine, but it does have a lot of hype. Data spaces are more linked to the Data Portability concept, but there is also the idea of integrating data from various sources. This is very similar to the concepts of the semantic web. Assuming we have the supporting data for the semantic web, what do we do with the data?

Killer Applications

The first killer application for the semantic web could be the Firefox plugin. If it allows traversal of the linked data, this gives the power of a semantic web browser in a very familiar environment. This would allow some of the other applications to become truly relevant. The real killer application is going to be semantic search. I say this because search is such a crucial part of the internet experience. Think about the evolution of the internet. Yahoo was fairly big with its search and its directory. Google became so big it became a verb. How often do people talk about “googling” something. You really do not hear people talking about “yahooing” something, and I am not sure what that would mean either. So what does semantic search look like? Well, it cannot just be Google, as you lose the semantic part of the search. If the initial results are as good as Google’s, the display could look similar to a network of nodes. The size of a node can be related to relevance of the node, and the distance could be a reference to how closely linked the node is to the source.

I am still hopeful that the semantic web does take hold. I think the web development world needs to start making some small steps towards the big picture goals of the semantic web. Right now, the services are probably going for the home run and that is not that helpful if there is nobody on base. What do you think needs to happen? What killer applications did I miss?

7 thoughts on “What is needed for the semantic web to take off?

  1. Well, I’d be happy with a plugin, but I’d really like to see WordPress 3 and other newer releases of blog platforms come with semantic markup native.

    Of course, a plugin would be nice. Zemanta ain’t quite it, though it does an admirable job of trying.

    As usual, great post.


  2. @honest_ape

    Native markup would be great, but that was part of my point. We need baby steps first, then the big leaps will come.


  3. Well, here’s how I’m doing my part to win the hearts and minds of the semantically-challenged. I’ve launched a wiki directory that is open to any person, any business, any organization. It’s running Semantic Mediawiki, so the “juice” for search engine ranking and ASK queries is built-in. Hoping to attract people who want to say something about themselves (or their enterprise) without worrying about some teenaged vandal messing with their page (“MARK RICHMOND SLEEPS WITH HIS PET FERRET ! ! ! LOLZ ! !”), I’ve put single-user “protection” on all pages in the Directory that are about a living person or any legal entity. There’s still community editing on the non-legal pages, though (like “water”, “Lake Michigan”, or “heating oil”). That way, everybody can get the benefit of interlinking within the wiki, plus semantic tagging. For those too bothered by either wiki markup or semantic tags, we can create pages for a small fee. Oh, and users are allowed to advertise, sell, promote — whatever — on their own Directory page(s). If you’re interested in adding your page to the 35,000 we have already, come visit MyWikiBiz.com.


  4. @Gregory
    The site is interesting and I will follow its progress. If you had auto-discovered semantic tagging, that would be fantastic! For now we can wait 🙂


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