Blog, Semantic Intelligence
29 October 2008

What exactly is Web 3.0?

What is Web 3.0?

There is plenty of confusion these days about what web 3.0 is, sometimes called the Semantic Web.  I thought it would help to set the record straight.

Let’s start by understanding what web 1.0 and web 2.0 are thereby setting the stage for web 3.0.

Here goes;
Web 1.0 is one producer and mass consumption. The original web gave the power of authorship to few people who created content for the rest of us. Mass consumption of that content became possible with the advent of web directories like Google and Yahoo. Those directories work by indexing every word on every page. The more words per page that match your search query the higher on the result list. But even if only one word matches the page is listed as part of the search results. This is why you get 30, 40 or 60 thousand results per search. Many of those pages are useless to you.

Also, this is keyword technology. It treats words like tokens. A series of letters in a certain order from a search query is matched to a series of letters in the same order on any page. The underlying meaning of the word, the context in which the word is used, the words relationship to other words around it is not considered. Keyword technology treats words like a picture and not part of a language.
Here is the definitive test. Take any webpage. Take every word on that page and mix them up until they make no sense. Feed the page back to Google or Yahoo and have them index it. They will serve the page up just like they did the original. Same words, same tokens – if they match serve the page. Keyword technology does not care that the page makes no sense because the technology does not use sense as part of the index.

Web 2.0 is mass production and mass consumption. The advent of blogs, chat rooms, and other instant and ubiquitous authoring tools and sites ready to accept the content has been a great democratization of the web. The power to express opinion, to add knowledge to humankind is a great advance forward. We all get to hear from each other, to learn from each other. This is a good thing.

Except … that keyword technology has not helped us to locate opinion or knowledge as intended by those authors.

Consider the following sentence. “I believe the government has done a good thing in bailing out the economy that is in such bad shape”. Keyword technology would match this sentence (web page) to any of the following queries

good government
bad government
good economy
bad economy

Four different queries and four different needs – yet they all get the same page and are left to do the work of reviewing whether the page really applies to their needs or not. Multiple that effort by the 30, 40 or 60 thousand search results and you have an untenable situation. So how are we going to get out of this mess?

Web 3.0 is mass production with pinpoint consumption. Semantics is the science of machine comprehension of text. It means the computer reads, understands and tags words, sentences, paragraphs and whole documents. With semantics, when we search we can tell the computer to fetch only concepts about “good government” or “bad economy”. In the above sentence, semantics would understand the adjective good is connected to the noun government and that the adjective bad is connected to the noun economy. In other words a semantic search would ignore a sentence such as “I believe the government has done a bad thing in bailing out the economy that is in fundamentally good shape”.

So here is the kicker. If web 1.0 was single production and mass consumption then web 3.0, the semantic web, is mass production and pinpoint consumption. Web 3.0 turns web 1.0 on its head. It allows me, the individual, to find, assemble and consume only those portions of the vast internet that help me with my current task. Web 3.0 works for me rather than me having to work the web to get anything useful from it.

I had the chance to meet the inventor of the web Sir Tim Berners-Lee just the other day at MIT. It is no accident he has reinvented the web as a semantic web. As the amount of available information grows ever larger web 1.0 becomes less useful. One could argue it will eventually collapse under its own weight and it is keyword technology that is killing it. Semantics is the driver of web 3.0 and will restore the productivity promise of a world of connected information, knowledge and intelligence once more.


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