On the Road to the Semantic Web

A new language called OWL will help power automated tools for the next generation web, offering advanced services such as more accurate Web search, intelligent software agents and knowledge management.

"The Semantic Web is an extension of the current web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation," wrote Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler and Ora Lassila in their Scientific American article "The Semantic Web."

Part of the task of giving information well-defined meaning is to create an ontology language, a common set of terms that are used to describe and represent objects on the web. The World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) OWL (Ontology Web Language) seeks to do just this.

What kinds of good things will OWL help enable? In the W3C's new requirements paper describing the objectives, goals and requirements of OWL, a few examples provide an intriguing insight into how the Semantic Web will enhance our online experience.

  • Web portals. Portals using OWL could gather relevant links more rapidly, and syndicate their content to other like-minded sites with ease.

  • Multimedia collections. Semantic annotations for collections of images, audio, or other non-textual objects will make them searchable and as easy to locate as text files are today.

  • Intelligent agents. "The Semantic Web can provide agents with the capability to understand and integrate diverse information resources. A specific example is that of a social activities planner, which can take the preferences of a user (such as what kinds of films they like, what kind of food they like to eat, etc.) and use this information to plan the user's activities for an evening."

  • Ubiquitous computing. Ubiquitous computing means computers everywhere, embedded into everyday objects such as clothing, appliances, cars, and so on -- greatly extending the simple functions of current generation devices like pagers and email cell phones.

Though hidden behind a stuffy academic title, the content of "Requirements for a Web Ontology Language" offers a tantalizing glimpse of the future as the Semantic web inches closer to realization.

Requirements for a Web Ontology Language

Semantic Web Activity
News, information, and links regarding the W3C's efforts to implement the Semantic Web.

The Semantic Web
A terrific overview of the Semantic Web and how it will change our online lives, from core W3C team members Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler and Ora Lassila.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was About.com's Web Search Guide.