Defining the semantic web

In 1999 Tim Berners-Lee had a dream for what he called the “semantic web“, in which computers

become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.

In his only blog post in the last a year, he sees the semantic web already emerging. First we had the internet which demonstrated that “it isn’t the cables, it is the computers which are interesting”. Then came the web which demonstrated that “it isn’t the computers, but the documents which are interesting”. Now there is realisation that “it’s not the documents, it is the things they are about which are important … Obvious, really.”

Biologists are interested in proteins, drugs, genes. Businesspeople are interested in customers, products, sales. We are all interested in friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. There is a lot of blogging about the strain, and total frustration that, while you have a set of friends, the Web is providing you with separate documents about your friends. One in facebook, one on linkedin, one in livejournal, one on advogato, and so on. The frustration that, when you join a photo site or a movie site or a travel site, you name it, you have to tell it who your friends are all over again. The separate Web sites, separate documents, are in fact about the same thing — but the system doesn’t know it.

There are cries from the heart (e.g The Open Social Web Bill of Rights) for my friendship, that relationship to another person, to transcend documents and sites. There is a “Social Network Portability” community. Its not the Social Network Sites that are interesting — it is the Social Network itself. The Social Graph. The way I am connected, not the way my Web pages are connected.

We can use the word Graph, now, to distinguish from Web. I called this graph the Semantic Web, but maybe it should have been Giant Global Graph.

Although he emphasises the social graph and most commentators have picked up on this alone, clearly there is much more to the (tongue-in-cheek) GGG than this. The semantic graph contains more types of nodes and links, but more importantly, unlike the graphs in the closed social networks, its meaning is defined and exposed in an open and machine-understandable fashion (per Nova Spivack).

Many more excerpts from and links to the conversation about this are in a post entitled Who is afraid of the GGG? on Nodalities.