Imagine going to a website that delivers content just for you—based on your unique needs and interests—instead of a one-size-fits-all, generic page. The intelligent systems behind the site don’t just display content because the markup language says to do it. The systems begin to analyze the meaning of the content they are displaying, they can interact with other systems, and they can relate it to other data they handled in the past. What’s more, these intelligent machines are able to interpret and understand the information they are handling in a similar fashion to the way we as humans understand the complexities and subtleties of human speech.
This scenario may sound far-fetched, but it is, in fact, Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the future of the World Wide Web, which he has termed the "Semantic Web."
In the earliest days of the web, sites were created by design gurus, and visitors simply came, read some content, clicked a few links, and maybe bought a book or a T-shirt. Several years later, the social web began to develop, and suddenly the tools were more accessible. We as users not only interacted with the content, we could create it too. This era, which we are still in the midst of, has been coined Web 2.0. Yet we find ourselves perched on the crest of a third wave, one that takes this social web further still by adding a semantic layer to the web, in which the underlying systems themselves begin to have an inherent semantic understanding of the content, without us having to explicitly tell them what we want to do.
Today, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has created a series of standards to help pull this vision together, but we are still very much at the beginning of the evolution of this technology. As you would expect, there are plenty of nonbelievers who think the semantic web concept is far too complex and will never happen. What’s more, while people may have some notion of a semantic web, it’s extremely difficult to understand, even on a high level. Yet despite these obstacles, there are companies out there working with these technologies and trying to solve these issues, one small puzzle piece at a time.