05/24/2006 05:26 PMA 'more revolutionary' Web - Print Version - International Herald TribunePage 2 of 3http://www.iht.com/bin/print_ipub.php?file=/articles/2006/05/23/business/web.php
In other words, the "mark-up" language behind each Web page would be cross-referenced intocountless other databases, once developers agreed on a common set of definitions.Much of that foundation has been established over the past several years by the World Wide WebConsortium, a technical standards and policy group headed by Berners-Lee.Now comes the effort to push Web developers to adopt the components and put them intosoftware, services and sites, said Nigel Shadbolt, a professor who teaches artificial intelligence atthe University of Southampton in England."There is an obvious place for the semantic Web in life sciences, in medicine, in industrialresearch," Shadbolt said, and that is where most of the focus is today."We're looking for communities of information users to show them the benefits," he said. "It's anevolutionary process."The big question is whether it will move on next to businesses or consumers, he said. Aconsequence of an open and diffuse Internet, he noted, is that unexpected outcomes can emergefrom unanticipated places.For instance, some early experiments in highlighting new relationships from existing Web datahave come out of Flickr, a photo-sharing site that members categorize themselves, and FOAF,which stands for "friend of a friend," a research project to describe the various links betweenpeople.Both add "meaning" where such context did not exist before, just by changing the underlyingprogramming to reflect links between databases, Shadbolt said."Over a 5-to-10-year time frame, I think you are going to see increasing amounts of this semanticWeb integration," he said.Patrick Sheehan, a partner in 3i Investments, a venture capital firm based in London, saidinvestment was beginning to follow the "blue sky" period of big dreams for the semantic Web. Hiscompany financed two such early-stage companies this year, both in Britain."You can now say 'semantic Web' without getting a totally blank stare back," Sheehan said,adding that he had seen "several, not hundreds," of proposals. "The technology is still mostlycoming out of the universities. But these companies are real, solving real problems - they're not just doing research."Garlik, based in Richmond, England, and listing Mike Harris, the chief executive of the online bankEgg, as its chairman, aims to use semantic programming to manage personal information online.OmPrompt, of Oxfordshire, focuses on message-driven trading communities.Sheehan believes that Europe, particularly at places like the University of Southampton, is leadingthe world in semantic Web research, though it remains to be seen whether the region can be assuccessful at commercializing it.Not that anyone is counting, but Berners-Lee, whose work at CERN was inspired by a desire toshare research papers widely among physicists, sees only two distinct versions of his Web: theWeb of documents, which emerged in the 1990s, and the Web of data, which will be the result of the semantic programming languages."People keep asking what Web 3.0 is," Berners-Lee said. "I think maybe when you've got anoverlay of scalable vector graphics - everything rippling and folding and looking misty - on Web 2.0and access to a semantic Web integrated across a huge space of data, you'll have access to anunbelievable data resource."