Hold on a Second
Some people believe that developing a fully semantic layer on the web that can truly learn and pass knowledge from one computer to another is simply too good to be true. Or at least, that it’s going to take an extreme level of cooperation, and doubters wonder if this level of cooperation would ever be possible to carry today’s solutions out to the web at large.
One person who is skeptical about taking this whole vision to the web is Dan Enthoven, VP of marketing at employment search vendor Trovix.Although his company uses semantic technologies, he has doubts about the Berners-Lee W3C vision of a semantic web. "If we have an axe to grind with the semantic web, it’s that we think it takes two steps too far," says Enthoven. "One is the idea that you can have this universal knowledge base that applies to all things. When you try to define a universal knowledge base, it falls apart because different people have different opinions on what things are," Enthoven explains. "The other idea is that people are going to start tagging documents and creating this whole meta layer manually. Metatags went out of fashion because they were so widely abused. If meta tags didn’t work then, why would the semantic web work?"
However, Brooke Aker, CEO at Expert System, makers of semantic search technologies, doesn’t buy that argument. "I think the W3C has put together a reasonable set of standards that will take us in the direction we need to go." He does point out that these standards can’t provide an engine to enhance our understanding of the content on the web; they can only provide a conduit for systems to communicate."Standards are just a means for interchanging, for adjudicating on how my technology might understand something versus someone else’s. If we process things with our technology, and we put that out with enhanced tags that meet the W3C standards, then someone else can absorb that and understand it," says Aker.
While many companies have clearly taken semantic technologies and built useful tools that can help you deliver more relevant content to your visitors, Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of an overarching semantic layer has yet to be realized. In fact, Outsell’s Strohlein believes that Berners-Lee’s top-down approach, where the W3C dictates the direction,probably won’t work. He thinks it actually more likely to work from companies such as the ones mentioned earlier, building a semantic web from the ground up.
For all that, Strohlein believes that the W3C standards are advanced enough that the foundation pieces are in place, but getting to a point where machines actually communicate intelligently with a semantic understanding of the content they are sending is still going to take a series of technological breakthroughs. But if we can get there, the possibilities for customized content delivered through smart interfaces is quite exciting indeed.
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