Semantic Embed: Part 2

This is my second posting on an event by the New York Semantic Web Meetup, which covers all aspects of the W3C recommended Semantic Web from technology to business. An offshoot Meetup, which will focus more on natural language processing, computational linguistics, and machine learning is supposed to start having meetings in January, and I plan to be there. See my first Meetup post here.

Semantic Web Programming – the book (John Hebeler)
The first slide in John Hebeler’s presentation last night had just one sentence: “Our ability to create information far exceeds our ability to manage it,” which is actually the best and most succinct argument for the Semantic Web that I’ve heard thus far. Hebeler made his point more visceral by asking us to guess how many files there were on his MacBook (the answer is over a million, about twice as many as most of us guessed). Imagining that many files on every computer hooked up to the Internet (there were over 1.5 billion Internet users as of June 30) is already overwhelming. And the bigger this mass of information gets, the stronger its pull toward entropy and the more we lose control. It’s something that should scare us, Hebeler said, because all that information is only as useful to us as our tools to sort through it; if we can’t find what we want, it’s the same as having lost it.

Luckily, Hebeler sees our salvation in the Semantic Web – or more specifically, in a highly flexible knowledge base that can handle both complex and simple types of data – and he’s co-authored the book to guide us there. It looks like it’s pretty easy to use: I’m not much of a programmer, but even I could follow the examples, all of which are demonstrated using Java code in the book. In trying to integrate data from, for example, Facebook and Gmail, which represent it in totally different formats, Hebeler gave us seven basic steps, or areas of code:

1) Knowledge-base creation

2) How to query it – just a simple search

3) Setting up your ontologies

4) Ontology/instance alignment – combine two ontologies, for example by teaching your program that what one ontology calls an “individual” is the same thing as what the other calls a “person,” or that “Kathryn” is equivalent to “Kate”

5) Reasoner – your program won’t incorporate its new understanding of equivalencies until you apply the reasoner

6) OWL restriction – allows you to apply constraints

7) Rules – allows you to apply rules

He and the other co-authors also maintain a website where they field questions and add updates about the book.

Lucene (Otis Gospodnetic)

The Lucene presentation by Otis Gospodnetic was aimed primarily at programmers who might want to use the Lucene software for indexing and searching of text. Lucene is actually just one piece of Apache Lucene, an Apache Software Foundation open-source project that includes other sub-projects like Nutch (a framework for building web-crawlers) and Solr (a search server). All of it, of course, is free, and since I’m not expert enough to vouch for any of it, I’d suggest checking out the Apache Lucene website where everything is available for download.

about Web 2.5

This blog is about how the current World Wide Web is becoming the web of the future. If you’re someone who uses the Internet (presumably you just did), then this blog is very much about your future. What’s great is, the future of the web is all about total, universal connectedness.

Some good reasons for reading this blog (or just learning about Web 3.0):


  • As an antidepressant: Most of the future (political, economic, environmental, Mad Men) looks bleak. But the future of technology looks sunnier every day. Visions of the next World Wide Web depict our lives as more organized, our scientific research more effective, and the information of the whole world better connected than it is today. Really, the tech people I talk to are some of the happiest and most idealistic around.
  • Out of interest: Personally, I love reading anything about Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, or Craigslist because most of their news is directly relevant to me. I’m even more interested in what future web phenomenons will look like, but because the people behind them tend to be so very smart – and a little disconnected from the rest of us – they often don’t write for those of us with non-technical backgrounds. On this blog, I’ll be doing the work of filtering and translating the best news and information about our collective journey toward Web 3.0.
  • To be a pioneer: The beauty of the World Wide Web (it is beautiful) is that it is the great democratizer. No one’s URL – the New York Times‘ or mine – is easier to reach than any others’ and anyone with a really good idea can become the next Mark Zuckerberg or Craig Newmark. The next generation of the web is almost here and you can encourage it, shape it, or profit from it, but only if you’re armed with knowledge about what’s going on.

So what’s the big idea?

The Web is just a social teenager…

The World Wide Web is still maturing. In the nineteen short years of its life, the WWW has grown from a small network of computers at a physics lab in Geneva – and from the brain of an idealistic English scientist there – to emerge as a new non-national, non-physical space that is open to anyone and contains the intellectual wealth of the entire world. We’re still grasping the implications of such a network. It’s only recently graduated to Web 2.0 – the social web – during which user participation exploded everywhere into editable sites like Wikipedia, countless web applications built on open source software and instant info-sharing sites like Twitter, Digg, and Reddit. Web 2.0 is the realization of the wisdom of the crowds: that the many are smarter than the few. The success of the social web showed us how much people can achieve when everyone everywhere can collaborate.

…and hasn’t realized yet how to put together everything it knows.

But while people have figured out how to work together effectively on the Internet, despite differences in language or nationality, computers are still way behind at sharing information. Why can’t your emailed RSVP to a party automatically show up as an event on your calendar and why can’t search engines figure out what you’re asking and just give you the right answer? Because the web is still set up for people to communicate, but not for machines. All those applications that let people access information also hide it from our computers in layers of irregular formatting and code that tells them how to display data, but not what it means.

What’s going to happen?

That’s where Web 3.0 comes in. Often referred to as the “Semantic Web” – a term coined by Tim Berners-Lee, that same English scientist who invented the web – the next thing to revolutionize our online world is the beginning of smart computer-to-computer communication. Instead of a web of human-readable documents, Web 3.0 will be a web of data, where every piece of information is semantically (meaningfully) linked to every other one. The WWW will become a giant computer-searchable database where we won’t waste our time on lengthy searches and transferring data between applications, because our computers will already understand the relationships between pieces of data on the web.

So what’s Web 2.5?

Well, we’re not quite ready for Web 3.0. For a complete Semantic Web, every piece of data would have to be marked-up with tags that tell computers what it’s about and what its relationship is to everything else. That would basically mean rewriting everything that’s on the web (using a semantics-based language such as OWL). But until then, the tech world is coming up with tools to interpret what we’ve got – an unstructured mass of information – to approach the ideals of the Semantic Web – a smarter, better-linked web of data. For example, work in natural language processing and question-answering (i.e. “What would be better for my six-year-old’s headache, Tylenol or aspirin?”), social graphing (a total mapping of how everyone is related to everyone else, or, the ultimate social network), or efforts to free your data from applications are all mini-steps toward computer understanding of the relationships between information. And they’re all part of what I’m calling Web 2.5: the transition from a web of tangled words to a web of interwoven meaning. Along the way, the developing technology will be spawning some very smart new sites and applications – like HealthBase, Dapper and Wolfram Alpha – but ultimately it’s headed toward the creation of a newly-connected world, whose full significance we can’t yet predict.