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The Semantic Web

Our wiki scrum team is now testing Semantic MediaWiki, a tool that will improve the wiki’s search and browse experience by bringing further tagging (and resulting meaning) to our articles. To understand the power of such a tool, one must understand the concept of the Semantic Web. One of the simplest descriptions I’ve found is Chris Gledhill’s “The Semantic Web — A Muggle’s View.” Below are a few quotes that explain the Semantic Web in a clean metaphor:

“The web is like a vast library in which the books are completely randomly arranged, each book has a predefined space on the shelf but there is absolutely no categorisation. Search engines such as Google act as librarians to help us find the resources we want, but in a most bizarre way. A web search engine is like some sort of autistic genius with an immense memory and perfect recall of the words in each book but absolutely no idea what they mean.”

“So instead of being able to ask Google to direct us to the section on advanced bungee jumping techniques or DIY space exploration, we have to think of some words that are likely to appear in the books we want and then wade through all of the irrelevant rubbish that happens to contain the same words in the hope of finding something useful.”

Having explained how the primitive Web works, Gledhill goes on to explain the Semantic Web:

“In information science… an ontology is a formal (and rigorous) description of all of the entities, relationships and rules within a particular domain of knowledge. The magical bit happens when you have created an ontology in a particular field. It then becomes possible for computer software to make logical inferences from real world information to ‘discover’ new facts which have not been explicitly encoded.”

Gledhill ends by predicting which fields will likely embrace the work it takes to create the semantic context that will allow their information to be more useful and findable. The Semantic Web, he says, “will be welcomed in any commercial field where the economic advantages of standardisation outweigh the benefits of confusing the opposition, punter [beginner user] or regulator.”

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