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El.pub Analytic No. 6 The semantic web - will it work?

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Contents: The problem | Hypertext, SGML and search engines | Mixing tagging and linking | Navigating islands of information | Problem summary | The semantic web: what is it? | what will it do? | what do they say about it? | will it work? | Conclusions

Problem summary

We have a gigantic human created resource that is rapidly approaching the point (in my opinion) where everything we know is stored in a publicly accessible archive - the web. We don't know how to use it.

Before looking at a proposed approach to the solution - the semantic web - it is necessary to add a few points to the above analysis. First, the web is the success that it is precisely because it is a repository of natural language expression. Anyone who can write can contribute to the web, anyone who can read can access the information (leaving aside questions of universal access which are primarily economic and can be solved). Any solution has to leave this aspect unchallenged. Second, solutions that assume any rapid resolution of the main problems of natural language processing are unrealistic. Third, we should recognise that some of the things we might try to use the web for are inappropriate.

As a social example of the latter we might cite the idea of letting people know that a plane is late in arriving. Planes do crash on rare occasions and people are sometimes killed. In that circumstance there is general agreement that the close relatives of the people involved should be informed before the general public. It would be inappropriate to allow a system to be developed that bypassed that agreement simply to cut the time people spend waiting for planes by a few minutes. At a more mundane level, we should not try to locate people by searching for their telephone numbers or addresses in the text of web pages when we have perfectly good databases of such information that can be queried more efficiently (and over the web).

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