The World Wide Web could be thought of as a giant, distributed library that is systematically archived and the contents of which can be sought programmatically based on our requirement.

The Internet, which houses the World Wide Web, with its humongous infrastructure and zillions of bytes of information, is the greatest information reserve humanity has seen.

This infrastructural mammoth has, in a short span, profoundly impacted our lives and culture, merely by serving online content that caters to our needs. The World Wide Web for sure has got us entangled in its ‘web' by invading and expanding into realms of work, recreation and socialising.

By merely archiving and serving content to users, the World Wide Web is limited in its ability, for it cannot understand and process all that abundant information it houses. Semantic Web is the idea of instilling intelligence into the World Wide Web. With this intelligence, the new Web will be able to analyse all that it archives, and make sensible decisions based on this analysis. This increased functionality in turn would reduce the amount of unproductive and cumbersome tasks the users would be performing, such as searching, indexing and correlating information between multiple Web pages.

Web as a baby

“Think of the Web to be a baby; until now, we have been stuffing it with just the words, without teaching the language. With Semantic Web, we will be training the World Wide Web to understand the information we are feeding it, enabling it to communicate back to us,” says Jonas Smedegaard, Debian operating system developer, excited about the whole spectrum of possibilities with Semantic Web.

The term Semantic Web was coined by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and the director of the World Wide Web Consortium, with a vision of making the Web cognisant of all the information it possesses. Technically, Semantic Web is a highly interconnected network of data, which the Web already is, with the added ability that enables machines to ‘understand' and respond to complex human requests based on their ‘meaning'.

Such an ‘understanding' requires the relevant information sources to be structured in a manner that machines can understand. This understanding mechanism is accomplished by a gamut of technologies prescribed by the World Wide Web Consortium.

Semantic functionality

Web 2.0 brought in with it some basic levels of semantic functionality using the metadata (descriptive information) tagging options. For instance, most blogs can categorise posts based on ‘tags', likewise microblogs with hash tags (example, #theedge), allow the Web to scavenge and segregate information of similar kind. The limitation in such tagging is that this indexing happens only within a single application, like within a blog. Semantic Web is an attempt to surpass the application barrier, enabling the Web to perform this sort of analysis actions throughout the Internet.

Semantic Web attempts to transcend the islandic application barriers, using a common language for representing data that could be understood by all kinds of software agents; Web ontologies, or sets of statements that translate information to machine-understandable format using descriptions and providing meaning to the content; and ‘rules' that allow software agents to reason about the information described in those terms and, thereby, obtaining more meaningful results, helping computers to perform automated information gathering and research.

With this level of comprehension inculcated in the Internet, tasks like finding out relations between people or tracking down abstract content with a query such as ‘Hindi movies with no songs' would be simply doable.

Privacy and security

Semantic Web is in its nascent stage, and it is the right time to raise concerns about privacy of users and security of data in this ‘understanding' version of the Web. It is an ‘intelligent agent with all information', and securing this agent as a vanguard of the users, without allowing it to become a spy of corporations, must be structurally guaranteed.