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3.18  Future of the Web

Web 2.0 will make the cover of Time magazine, and thus its moment in the sun will have passed. However, the story that drives Web 2.0 will only strengthen, and folks will cast about for the next best name for the phenomenon.

—John Battelle1

Were a long way from the full realization of the potential of intelligent systems, and there will no doubt be a tipping point where the systems get smart enough that we'll be ready to say, this is qualitatively different. Lets call it Web 3.0.

—Tim O’Reilly2

The XHTML coding on websites defines their structure and layout, specifying colors, fonts, sizes, use of bold and italic, paragraphs, tables and the like, but not specifying the meaning of the data on the page. Web 1.0 servers sent mostly static web pages coded in HTML or XHTML to browsers that rendered the pages on the screen. Web 2.0 applications are more dynamic, generally enabling significant interaction between the user (the client) and the computer (the server), and among communities of users.

Computers have a hard time deciphering meaning from XHTML content. The web today involves users’ interpretations of what pages and images mean, but the future entails a shift from XHTML to a more sophisticated system based on XML, enabling computers to better understand meaning.

Web 2.0 companies use “data mining” to extract as much meaning as they can from XHTML-encoded pages. For example, Google’s AdSense contextual advertising program does a remarkable job placing relevant ads next to content based on some interpretation of the meaning of that content. XHTML-encoded content does not explicitly convey meaning, but XML-encoded content does. So if we can encode in XML (and derivative technologies) much or all of the content on the web, we’ll take a great leap forward towards realizing the Semantic Web.

It is unlikely that web developers and users will directly encode all web content in XML—it’s simply too tedious and probably too complex for most web designers. Rather, the XML encoding will occur naturally as a by-product of using various content creation tools. For example, to submit a resume on a website, there may be a tool that enables the user to fill out a form (with first name, last name, phone number, career goal, etc.). When the resume is submitted, the tool could create a computer readable microformat that could easily be found and read by applications that process resumes. Such tools might help a company find qualified potential employees, or help a job seeker who wants to write a resume find resumes of people with similar qualifications).

Tagging and Folksonomies

Tagging and folksonomies are early hints of a “web of meaning.” Without tagging, searching for a picture on Flickr would be like searching for a needle in a giant haystack. Flickr’s tagging system allows users to subjectively tag pictures with meaning, making photos findable by search engines. Tagging is a “loose” classification system, quite different, for example, from using the Dewey Decimal System for cataloging books, which follows a rigid taxonomy system, limiting your choices to a set of predetermined categories. Tagging is a more “democratic” labeling system that allows people, for example, to associate whatever meanings they choose with a picture (e.g. who is in the picture, where it was taken, what is going on, the colors, the mood, etc.).

Semantic Web

People keep asking what Web 3.0 is. I think maybe when you've got an overlay of scalable vector graphicseverything rippling and folding and looking mistyon Web 2.0 and access to a semantic Web integrated across a huge space of data, you'll have access to an unbelievable data resource.

—Tim Berners-Lee3

The Holy Grail for developers of the semantic Web is to build a system that can give a reasonable and complete response to a simple question like: Im looking for a warm place to vacation and I have a budget of $3,000. Oh, and I have an 11-year-old childUnder Web 3.0, the same search would ideally call up a complete vacation package that was planned as meticulously as if it had been assembled by a human travel agent.

—John Markoff4

Many people consider the Semantic Web to be the next generation in web development, one that helps to realize the full potential of the web. This is Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of the web, also known as the “web of meaning.”5 Though Web 2.0 applications are finding meaning in content, the Semantic Web will attempt to make those meanings clear to computers as well as humans. It will be a web able to answer complex and subtle questions.

Realization of the Semantic Web depends heavily on XML and XML-based technologies (seeChapter 14), which help make web content more understandable to computers. Currently, computers “understand” data on basic levels, but are progressing to find meaningful connections and links between data points. The emerging Semantic Web technologies highlight new relationships among web data. Some experiments that emphasize this are Flickr and FOAF (Friend of a Friend), a research project that “is creating a Web of machine-readable pages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do.”6 Programming in both instances involves links between databases—ultimately allowing users to share, transfer, and use each other’s information (photos, blogs, etc.).7

Preparations for the Semantic Web have been going on for years. XML is already widely used in both online and offline applications, but still only a minute portion of the web is coded in XML or derivative technologies. Many companies, including Zepheira, an information management company, and Joost, an Internet TV provider, already use semantic technologies in working with data. Deterring Semantic Web development are concerns about the consequences of false information and the abuse of data. Since the Semantic Web will rely on computers having greater access to information and will yield a deeper understanding of its significance, some people worry about the potentially increased consequences of security breaches. The Policy Aware Web Project is an early attempt at developing standards to encourage data sharing by providing access policies that can sufficiently protect individuals’ privacy concerns.8

Microformats

We need microformats that people agree on.

Bill Gates, MIX06 conference9

Some people look at the web and see lots of “loose” information. Others see logical aggregates, such as business cards, resumes, events and so forth. Microformats are standard formats for representing information aggregates that can be understood by computers, enabling better search results and new types of applications. The key is for developers to use standard microformats, rather than developing customized, non-standard data aggregations. Microformat standards encourage sites to similarly organize their information, thus increasing interoperability. For example, if you want to create an event or an events calendar, you could use the hCalendar microformat. Some other microformats are adr for address information, hresume for resumes, and xfolk for collections of bookmarks.10

Resource Description Framework (RDF)

The Resource Description Framework (RDF), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is based on XML and used to describe content in a way that is understood by computers. RDF helps connect isolated databases across the web with consistent semantics.11 The structure of any expression in RDF is a collection of triples.12 RDF triples consist of two pieces of information (subject and object) and a linking fact (predicate). Let’s create a simple RDF triple. “Chapter 3, Dive Into® Web 2.0” is the title of this document and one property (the document’s subject) that we’ll use in our RDF triple. Another property of this chapter is “Deitel” as the author. So the sentence “Chapter 3, Dive Into® Web 2.0 is written by Deitel” is an RDF triple, containing two properties and a linking fact (“is written by”).

DBpedia.orgis currently transferring content into RDF from Wikipedia, one of the largest and most popular resources of online information. Using SPARQL (SPARQL Protocol and RDF Query Language), DBpedia.org is converting data from Wikipedia entries into RDF triples. In June 2007, they claimed to have over 91 million triples—this will allow the information (from Wikipedia) to be accessed by more advanced search queries.13

Ontologies

Ontologies are ways of organizing and describing related items, and are used to represent semantics. This is another means of cataloging Internet content in a way that can be understood by computers.14 RDF is designed for formatting ontologies. OWL (Web Ontology Language), also designed for formatting ontologies in XML, extends beyond the basic semantics of RDF ontologies to enable even deeper machine understanding of content.15

Closing Comment

This book will get you up to speed on Web 2.0 applications development. Building a “web of meaning” will ultimately open a floodgate of opportunities for web developers and entrepreneurs to write new applications, create new kinds of businesses, etc. We don’t know exactly what the “web of meaning” will look like, but it’s starting to take shape. If it helps accomplish what many leaders in the web community believe is possible, the future of the web will be exciting indeed.




  1. Battelle, John. “2006 Predictions, How Did I Do?” John Battelle Searchblog, <http://battelleme dia.com/archives/003216.php>.
  2. O’Reilly, Tim. “Web 3.0 Maybe when we get there.” O’Reilly Radar, 13 November 2006 <http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2006/11/web_30_maybe_wh.html>.
  3. Shannon, V. “A 'More Revolutionary' Web.” May 2006 <http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/05/23/business/web.php>.
  4. Markoff, John. “Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense.” The New York Times, November 2006<http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/12/business/12web.html?ex=1320987600& en=254d697964cedc62&ei=5088>.
  5. Berners-Lee, T. Weaving the Web. Harper-Collins, 2000.
  6. Friend of a Friend Project homepage. <http://www.foaf-project.org/>.
  7. Shannon, Victoria. “A ‘More Revolutionary’ Web.” International Herald Tribune. May 24 2006 <http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/05/23/business/web.php>.
  8. Weitzner, D., J. Hendler, T. Berners-Lee, and D. Connolly. “Creating a Policy-Aware Web: Discretionary, Rule-based Access for the World Wide Web.” October 2004 <http://www.w3.org/2004/09/Policy-Aware-Web-acl.pdf>.
  9. “Bill Gates: Microsoft MIX06 Conference.”Microsoft, March 2006.
  10. “Microformats Wiki.” microformats.org<http://microformats.org/wiki/Main_Page>.
  11. Miller, E. “An Introduction to the Resource Description Framework.” D-Lib Magazine, May 1998 <http://dlib.org/dlib/may98/miller/05miller.html>.
  12. “Resource Description Framework (RDF) Concepts and Abstract Sytax.” w3.org <http://www.w3.org/TR/rdf-concepts/#section-Concepts>.
  13. DBPedia.org. <http://dbpedia.org/docs/>.
  14. Heflin, J. “OWL Web Ontology Language Use Cases and Requirements.” W3C, 10 February 2004 <http://www.w3.org/TR/webont-req/>.
  15. “Introduction to OWL.” W3Schools<http://www.w3schools.com/rdf/rdf_owl.asp>.
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Update :: October 17, 2017