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Updated: April 15, 2010 15:21 IST

Constructing a web of meaningful data

D. Murali
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Title: Semantic Web programming
Special Arrangement Title: Semantic Web programming

You may call data the king, but real power comes only when your data can be connected with other data sources to create a linked data web, emphasises the foreword by Mike Dean in ‘Semantic Web Programming’ (www.wileyindia.com).

Dean introduces the Semantic Web as ‘an international effort to represent data (including World Wide Web data currently designed for human users) in formats amenable to automated processing, integration, and reasoning.’ And he mentions that current applications include data integration from mash-ups to the enterprise, improved search, service composition, intelligent agents, desktop and mobile applications, and collaboration.

Definition

For starters, semantic means ‘meaning,’ begin the authors, John Hebeler, Matthew Fisher, Ryan Blace, and Andrew Perez-Lopez. They rue that meaning is often absent from most information sources, requiring users or complex programming instructions to supply it. For example, web pages are filled with information and associated tags sandwiched between greater than and less than symbols. “The Semantic Web is simply a web of data described and linked in ways to establish context or semantics that adhere to defined grammar and language constructs.”

Programming adds semantics but the problem is that the semantics are lost in a maze of if/else statements, database lookups, and so on, making it thus difficult to take advantage of the rich information or even to recognise it. In the place of the nonstandard, dispersed way of programmatic semantic capture which puts restrictions on it and makes it unnecessarily complex and essentially obfuscated, the Semantic Web uses standardised connections to related information.

This includes labelling data unique and addressable, the authors explain. “Each unique data element then connects to a larger context, or web. The web offers potential pathways to its definition, relationships to a conceptual hierarchy, relationships to associated information… The flexibility of a web form enables connections to all the necessary information, including logic rules.”

Information that adds information to itself

Dynamic change is a tenet of the WWW, yet many applications are frozen and trapped by their initial requirements, the authors observe. “This is especially true with data and its representations. Many data representations are, therefore, perpetually designed to address yesterday’s requirements. Freeing that data from traditional approaches is possible, but it comes at a high price, increased complexity.”

The solution, as the authors advise, is to go for properly designed Semantic Web applications that allow the inclusion of new data at any time by enabling information to figure things out through inference.

“Imagine information that adds information to itself, by itself. This is a power that few information technologies offer…”

Recommended read.

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