The Semantic Web

Learning about Web Design and Programming in recent months, I’ve thought more than once that what the web really needs more than better looks or crazy functionality – read: Web2.0 – is web order. Not order in the sense of allowing or prohibiting things. The success and power of the web lies in allowing as much as possible and prohibiting as little as necessary. But order in the sense of organization, like the cataloguing of a library.

So many times, I’ve made multiple, futile attempts to find something through google and given up, only to try again and finally get lucky in my 7th session. First there is the Deep Web, that part of the web that may not be covered by google searches because google hasn’t crawled into those corners of the web, e.g. subscription websites or library sites, although, I guess, google has made some headway in the library area. Then, there is the fact that after searching for “Python”, the first 10 search results include the programming language and Monty Python but nothing about a snake (alhtough there IS a link to a wikipedia.org page that lists all possible “meanings” of Python – I’ve said it before, I’ve begun preferring wikipedia over google). I understand that google bases their page ranking on user behavior. So no wonder it is fraught with limitations. To make a long story short, I wish there were some kind of query language/tools for google searches, a way to pack all that you know or are asking for into that little search box at google.com. Maybe I’m just not aware of its existence.

One way I can think of how the web might get some order is through the ever more common “tagging” habits. I am very lazy when it comes to tagging my blog posts, probably because I doubt anyone will want to read them anyway. But accurate tagging of page content might actually improve someone’s chances of finding the right page. Today, I found this interesting article (and a link to a Science article) about the semantic web. I wish I were a whole lot smarter. Then I would go back to school and study artificial intelligence. But since I’m not, I have to just marvel at what some scientists are doing.

Scientists are trying to learn how the brain handles “meaning” so that they can teach machines (computers) to understand the meaning of your search engine entry. They’re finding that the brain interprets meaning through association which is like tagging on a much more sophisticated, deeper level. If A reminds you of B which reminds you of C which reminds you of D, then when you say A you may also want D… that sort of thing. It’s a fascinating field.

Just one example: Apparently, it is much easier to “teach” a computer the meaning of verbs through association (think tag clouds) than nouns. Because nouns – since they symbolize objects – come with associations of sounds, smells, colors etc. which the brain is familiar with but the computer has no way of gathering from text only information…. Like I said, A.I. must be one of the most interesting fields in science these days.

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