Blog, Cognitive computing
2 August 2016

What is the Semantic Web?

What is the semantic web? The semantic web was an idea of world wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee who wanted to create a more intelligent and intuitive web. The idea was to turn the web into a single repository of information not just a vast collection of disconnected web pages.

As Berners-Lee wrote in the May 2001 issue of Scientific American, “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.”

For the semantic web, meaning and understanding are foundational for enabling the sharing of data and information across businesses, scientific communities, and basically for anyone.

Today, if we want to find something on the web, we perform a search to retrieve pages or documents that match our keyword. As we know, this is not always a 100% effective process; not only do we receive more results than we can reasonably manage or evaluate, all of the results are not a match to our search. This is because the markup language —typically HTML— uses a description of the documents that, in computer language is just text without meaning.

The challenge that the semantic web seeks to address is to provide a format or structure that can help machines understand the web page data in a way that encompasses an understanding of meaning in terms of what is on a page. The semantic web applies a framework that includes a data-centric publishing language such as RDF, OWL or XML that allows meaning and structure (through new data and metadata) to be added to content in a way that is machine readable. In this way, computers can do more of the heavy lifting when it comes to search and aggregation of web information.

How is the “Semantic Web” Different?

Think of it this way: A typical web pages contains a lot of unstructured data; text, images and links to other pages. Within the text itself are numbers, dates, names, locations and facts. Search of pages that do not have semantic markup relies solely on the html description of that page. This means that it cannot tell the search engine what’s on that page, not the names it contains nor a data in a sentence.

Therefore, the information on a web page cannot be automatically related to information on another page, nor can it correlate different pieces of data about the same person across many pages. The mission of the semantic web is to make these capabilities feasible.

Searching a page with semantic markup results in a completely different experience. Here, search can access metadata descriptions to understand what a page is about—not by matching keywords—to retrieve information based on the information a page contains.


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