Is the Technology for the Semantic Web "There Yet"?
You may be thinking, "It sounds great, but is the technology really here yet?" While implementing the semantic web on the Internet is still a vision, the building blocks for the semantic web are being deployed in small domains and prototypes. Thus, the pieces are falling into place to make the promise a reality. Over the past five years, we have seen a paradigm shift away from proprietary stovepiped systems and toward open standards. The W3C, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) have had widespread support from corporations and academic institutions alike for interoperability. The support of XML has spawned support of XML-based technologies, such as SOAP-based Web services that provide interoperable interfaces into applications over the Internet. RDF provides a way to associate information. Using XML as a serialization syntax, RDF is the foundation of other ontology-based languages of the semantic web. XML Topic Maps (XTM) provide another mechanism for presenting taxonomies of information to classify data. Web services provide a mechanism for software programs to communicate with each other. Ontology languages (OWL, DAML+OIL) are ready for prime time, and many organizations are using these to add semantics to their corporate knowledgebases. This list could go on and on. Currently, there is an explosion of technologies that will help us reach the vision of the semantic web.
Helping the semantic web's promise is our industry's current focus on Web services. Organizations are beginning to discover the positive ROI of Web services on interoperability for Enterprise Application Integration (EAI). The next big trend in Web services will be semantic-enabled Web services, where we can use information from Web services from different organizations to perform correlation, aggregation, and orchestration. Academic research programs, such as TAP at Stanford, are bridging the gap between disparate Web service-based data sources and "creating a coherent semantic web from disparate chunks."6 Among other things, TAP enables semantic search capabilities, using ontology-based knowledgebases of information.
Companies are heavily investing in semantic web technologies. Adobe, for example, is reorganizing its software metadata around RDF, and they are using Web ontology-level power for managing documents. Because of this change, "the information in PDF files can be understood by other software even if the software doesn't know what a PDF document is or how to display it." In its recent creation of the Institute of Search and Text Analysis in California, IBM is making significant investments in semantic web research. Other companies, such as Germany's Ontoprise, are making a business out of ontologies, creating tools for knowledge modeling, knowledge retrieval, and knowledge integration. In the same Gartner report mentioned at the beginning of this article, which said semantic web ontologies will play a key role in 75 percent of application integration by 2005, the group also recommended that "enterprises should begin to develop the needed semantic modeling and information management skills within their integration competence centers."
So, to answer the question of this section: Yes, we are ready for the semantic web. The building blocks are here, semantic web-supporting technologies and programs are being developed, and companies are investing more money into bringing their organizations to the level where they can utilize these technologies for competitive and monetary advantage.
This article provided many examples of the practical uses of the semantic web. Semantic web technologies can help in decision support, business development, information sharing, and automated administration. We gave you examples of some of the work and investment that is occurring right now, and we briefly showed how the technology building blocks of the semantic web are falling into place. Chapter 9, "Crafting Your Company's Roadmap to the Semantic Web," in The Semantic Web, picks up where this article left off, providing you with a road map of how your organization can begin taking advantage of these technologies.
"A Semantic Web Approach to Service Description of Matchmaking of Services," David Trastour, Claudio Bartolini, and Javier Gonzales-Castillo, in Proceedings of the International Semantic Web Working Symposium (SWWS), Stanford, California, July 2001.
"The Next Web," Information Week, October 10, 2002.
"Semantic Web Application Areas," Fensel et. al., in Proceedings of the 7th International Workshop on Applications of Natural Language to Information Systems, Stockholm, Sweden, June 2728, 2002.
"Semantic Web Methodologies for Spatial Decision Support," Michael J. Casey and Mark A. Austin, University of Maryland, Institute for Systems Research and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, November 2001.
"Semantic Web Technologies Take Middleware to Next Level," Gartner Research Note T-17-5338, August 2002. (Note: requires registration/purchase)
"TAP," WWW2002 Developer's Day presentation, RamanathanV. Guha and Rob McCool, WWW2002.
"The Web Weaver Looks Forward," BusinessWeek, (interview with Tim Berners-Lee), March 27, 2002.
This article is excerpted from "The Semantic Web, copyright 2003 Michael C. Daconta, Leo J. Obrst, Kevin B. Smith (ISBN: 0471432571, Wiley Publishing Inc.) used by permission of the publisher, all rights reserved.