The Semantic Web

Time-to-Adoption: Four to Five Years
The idea behind the semantic web is that although online data might be easily available for searching, their meaning is not: computers are very good at returning keywords, but very bad at understanding the context in which keywords are used. A typical search on the term “turkey,” for instance, might return traditional recipes, information about the bird, and information about the country; the search engine can only pick out keywords, and cannot distinguish among different uses of the words. Similarly, although the information required to answer the question “Which original paintings by Arthur Dove are housed in the United States?” is readily available to a search engine, it is scattered among many different pages and sources. Semantic-aware applications use the context of information as well as the content to make determinations about relationships between bits of data; examples like TripIt, SemaPlorer, and Xobni organize information about travel plans, places, or email contacts and display it in convenient formats based on semantic connections.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning & Creative Inquiry

  • Semantic portals that aggregate information from a variety of sources could facilitate research.
  • A fully-developed semantic search tool could return results from a topical search with video, images, text, and other content aggregated and presented in a meaningful way.
  • As the amount of available information continues to grow, semantic tools that can deliver context-sensitive information will become more key for research and sense-making.

The Semantic Web in Practice

  • Apture is a free semantic application that allows users to find and add relevant multimedia easily to blogs:
  • CultureSampo is a web 2.0 portal and a publication channel for Finnish cultural heritage based on the semantic web:
  • Hakia, created using Yahoo's new Build your Own Search Service (BOSS), is a semantic web service that provides results based on quality, not popularity. One criterion, for example, is that results come from librarian-recommended sites:
  • Type a phrase into — such as “semantic web” — and receive a multimedia report including definitions, top search results, relevant blog entries, photos, videos, and more:

For Further Reading

Semantic Web at
This site provides a number of examples of how the semantic web could be used to analyze government data in a visual context.

Talis’ Nodalities Magazine
This free publication is a good resource for staying up to date on current and emerging semantic web technologies. The articles provide many examples and case studies.

Tim Berners-Lee on the Next Web
(TED Talks, February 2009.) Sir Tim Berners-Lee discusses the history and future of the web.