What is the Semantic Web?

The idea behind the semantic web is that although online data is available for searching, its 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 a question like “How many current world leaders are under the age of 60?” is readily available to a search engine, it is scattered among many different pages and sources. Semantic-aware applications infer the meaning, or semantics, of information on the Internet to make connections and provide answers that would otherwise entail a great deal of time and effort. New 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. Semantic searching is being applied for scientific inquiries, allowing researchers to find relevant information without having to deal with apparently similar, but irrelevant, information. For instance, Noesis, a new semantic web search engine developed at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is designed to filter out search hits that are off-topic. The search engine uses a discipline-specific semantic ontology to match search terms with relevant results, ensuring that a search on "tropical cyclones" will not turn up information on sports teams or roller coasters.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • I think when we start looking at the use of semantics we need to step back from thinking about the Semantic Web and look at more localized semantic applications. From these, mature applications can be developed that work across the web, however, the underlying technology is still emerging. As an example of localized implementations, I would cite work that I and colleagues at American Public University recently engaged in to map the entire curriculum for our School of Business. http://sloanconsortium.org/effective_practices/semantic-mapping-learning-assets This project required considerable time and resources, thus demonstrating the problems associated with creating large semantic applications. Realistically I would suspect we are at least 5 years away from semantics having a significant impact. - phil.ice phil.ice Oct 17, 2010
  • For the natural sciences, the semantic web in particular has been important for researchers to help pull seemingly un-connected information together linked by semantics that were not readily available through traditional search technology. - KeeneH KeeneH Oct 18, 2010

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • your response here
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • The semantic web has the potential to greatly add to the nuances and contextual nature of many specific disciplines that use particular types of databases and lexicons. Applying semantic technologies to specialized online databases can help researchers see connections and patterns within their disciplines that would be hard to see without this technology. It also helps take searching to new level by using the semantics of language to give better results thus saving time and providing better search results. - KeeneH KeeneH Oct 18, 2010
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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