The semantic web and the move towards an interconnected world

Media Update
The semantic web is a relatively new concept, initially proposed some ten-plus years ago as a component of Web 3.0, and is creating quite a bit of buzz in

Roughly a year ago, the World Editor’s Forum put together a programme titled: ‘The 2015 Newsroom: high standards with low-cost solutions.’ What interested me from the line-up was a slot titled ‘personalised news and the semantic web’, in a joint presentation by big names in the European digital communication industry…

By Leigh Andrews

The programme described the session as follows: “Forget mass media products. Think niches and personalisation to keep your readers tuned in. Some new technological developments allow readers to receive only the news they want – Google Instant is receiving lots of information in this regard, as it takes note of your online interests and uses these to tailor search results. But is personalised news the future of information? And is it only big media groups who can develop these services?”

The semantic web is a relatively new concept, initially proposed some ten-plus years ago as a component of Web 3.0, and is creating quite a bit of buzz in the online world, with New Scientist’s Technology section on 31 July featuring an article by Jim Giles on the semantic web. He stated that the semantic web, described by Wikipedia as a group of methods and technologies to allow machines to understand the meaning – or ‘semantics’ – of information on the World Wide Web.

I won’t go into the technical jargon, but this basically means we will ‘soon be able to receive sensible replies to our web queries, thanks to tags that allow computers to understand the content of websites. Confused? The semantic web simplifies the process of finding relevant information online – for example, web searches will be able to distinguish between articles that are about Chicago, the city, and Chicago, the musical. This cuts down on the sheer amount of clutter and distraction value of online – how much easier life would be if you would type a search term into Google, and instead of receiving 20 000 possibly related articles, that may mention the keyword you’ve entered in the manner you expected, you could receive a refined list of say, five links that were much more useful to you, as the search engines had done some of the work for you by processing not just the documents, but the concepts within documents; and making links between pieces of information. Berners-Lee envisioned a future where computers would: “become capable of analysing all the data on the Web – the content; links; and transactions between people and computers… the day-to-day mechanisms of trade; bureaucracy; and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines.

Giles added that a key way we can make the web more intuitive is if we take the time to tag specific websites, much in the same way that Facebook has added a ‘like’ button to its content, a practice which has since been adopted by leading websites the world over. Not only does this help categorise the content that online readers most enjoy, it also improves the visibility of certain articles that may have otherwise been unnoticed, as the ‘liker’s friends’ all receive notification of the ‘like’ on their news feeds. Optional location-based information is also being included on Twitter and Facebook, and ties in with contextual advertising, where ads are placed on sites that cater to similar interests and topics as what is being advertised.

This explains how social networking fits into the semantic web, as we are being inundated with the minutiae of our online ‘friends’ daily lives, as well as their likes and dislikes – this has also impacted on Facebook’s advertising, a nice example of the semantic web, as ads that show up on Facebook are tailored to each user’s specific demographic profile, based on their age bracket; gender; and location.
With this ‘increased time spent online’ in mind, coupled with the numerous distractions the online realm offers, the semantic web is a welcome development in that it should result in much more relevant, and therefore less detailed, online information searches. And while there’s an argument that increased internet usage and reliance on social media is isolating individuals, social networking also assists users in creating networks of online friends and group memberships to keep in touch with current friends and reconnect with old friends, which often spills over into real-life friendship and connections.

With all of these interesting developments already in place, what can we expect in the future? There’s a movie titled The Social Network in the works, as well a move towards ‘The Internet of Things’… simply put, this would mean that computers can ‘update’ their status online, too, and track the movement of everything from a tub of yoghurt to a speeding train, through the attachment of electronic tags. The possibilities are endless, and we’re definitely moving towards a highly interconnected world space.

What are your thoughts? Have you already made plans to put your website on the semantic web? Do you update your status no matter where you are and what you’re doing? What do you think will be the next development to change the way we interact online? Please share your thoughts on our blog.