What happened to the Semantic Web?

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Peter Mika, Sr. Director of Engineering
ACM Hypertext, July 5, 2017

• Brief history • Impact
• (Web) search • Media • E-commerce • Where next? • Threats and Opportunities • Q&A


The Semantic Web
• Part of Berners–Lee’s original vision for the Web • Described in more detail in Weaving the Web (1999) • Popularized by the Scientific American article, The Semantic Web (2001)
• An extension of the Hypertext Web (”A web for machines”) • Concepts (“Things”) as first class citizens of the Web • Typed links between concepts

RDF in a nutshell
• Assign URIs to concepts (“things”) • Example: Joe the Person has the URI ns:Joe
• Link concepts using typed links (triples) • Example: (ns:Joe, type, Person),
• An RDF model is a set of triples in a machinereadable format
• Publish on the Web





ns:Joe foaf:name

“John Doe”

Linking information across the Web

(#joe, #loves, #mary)

(#joe, #name, “Joe A.”) (#joe, #email, mailto:[email protected])
Joe’s homepage

Joe’s blog

(#name, #type, #Property) (#name, #domain, #Person)
Schema (ontology)

(#mary, name, “Mary B.”) (#mary, gender, “female”)
Mary’s homepage

The promise: machine intelligence
• “At the doctor's office, Lucy instructed her Semantic Web agent through her handheld Web browser. The agent promptly retrieved information about Mom's prescribed treatment from the doctor's agent, looked up several lists of providers, and checked for the ones in-plan for Mom's insurance within a 20mile radius of her home and with a rating of excellent or very good on trusted rating services. It then began trying to find a match between available appointment times (supplied by the agents of individual providers through their Web sites) and Pete's and Lucy's busy schedules.”
• (The emphasized keywords indicate terms whose semantics, or meaning, were defined for the agent through the Semantic Web.)



The Semantic Web off to a feverish start (2001-2004)
• New research community • ISWC conference series starting in 2001 • Built around the Knowledge Representation & Reasoning community
• Informal, developer community • People hanging out on the #swig IRC channel
• Standardization at a neck-braking pace • W3C Semantic Web Activity • URI, RDF, RDF/XML, RDFa, JSON-LD, OWL, RIF, SPARQL, OWL-S, POWDER …

… but adoption lagging behind
• Chicken and egg problem • No applications, hence no incentive to publish data • No data means no interesting applications to build
• Research and standardization ahead of adoption • “Build it and they will come” • Example: Semantic Web Services (OWL-S)

Chicken farm

Back to basics: the Linked (Open) Data movement (2006)
• Simplify the technology stack • The four rules of Linked Data
• Seed with interesting public data sets (open data) • Dbpedia
• Provide a set of re-usable vocabularies • Vocamp, later schema.org
• Make it developer friendly • SPARQL: SQL-like query language • RDFa: embedded metadata in HTML • JSON-LD: JSON-based RDF variant

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What happened to the Semantic Web?