11 Things To Know About Semantic Web

1. You don’t need to apologize for calling it Web 3.0. Of course the Web does not upgrade in one go like a company switching to Vista. But there is a definite phase transition from current technologies. My personal Web 3.0 definition is “the combination of Web 2.0 mass collaboration with structured databases”.

2. Semantic Web will start the long, slow decline of relational database technology. Web 3.0 enables the transition from “structure upfront” to “structure on the fly”. The world is clearly too complex to structure upfront, despite the tremendous skills brought by data modelers. Structure on the fly is done by people adding structure as they use the service and by engines that automatically create structure from unstructured content. Structure on the fly is very, very hard and RDBMS is very, very entrenched so this will be a long and slow transition; but the decline is inevitable. Innovation has slowed in the RDBMS world – with open source at one end and Oracle at the other, there is little reason to innovate – just when Semantic Web innovation is accelerating. RDBMS was good for enterprise scale performance and reliability but for Internet scale it falls short; just look at what companies like Amazon use.

3. If you have a firm grasp of the theoretical underpinnings of the semantic web, things like RDF, tuples, Sparql and OWL that make my brain hurt, you will be able to charge a fat premium in consulting fees for a while, as not many people really understand this stuff. But make hay while the sun shines, as some entrepreneur will surely figure out how to abstract this stuff and make it accessible for the masses.

4. The success stories will be different from Web 2.0. Just like Web 2.0 success stories were different from Web 1.0 successes. Web 2.0 successes were mostly about a single feature (photos, bookmarks, video, phone, blogging, etc) where there was extremely rapid adoption by consumers. Semantic Web is inherently about integration and those plays tend to be different, longer and much bigger potential.

5. Don’t look for a killer app. That implies a client/consumer win. This is much more likely to be a server/platform/enterprise win. Even if the initial experimentation is done in the consumer domain; Freebase for example looks like a mass Beta test for some enterprise technology that Metaweb wants to release later.

6. As this is a platform play, look for powerful APIs and ways to motivate entrepreneurs to build apps on top, with a clear “show me the money” proposition. Those apps maybe consumer or enterprise focussed.

7. Semantic Web could slow the Google steamroller. This could be like the PC for IBM or the Web for Microsoft. The steamroller’s momentum carries it forward for a very long time and it can build all kinds of wrapper systems around it, but something new always does come along. Google mastered how to give some structure to countless unstructured HTML pages. Semantic Web will gradually make that less critical as the underlying content will be more structured. These big generational changes – mainframe to PC to Web – seem to be happening faster, so it seems about time for another big generational change to start happening.

8. But don’t look for Yet Another Search Engine (YASE) to be the David to Google’s Goliath. Just like PC was not another mainframe and Web was not another PC. Don’t ask me precisely what it will look like; if I did know I would have to kill you if I told you. I just know what it won’t look like

9. Vertical Search is the pragmatist’s Semantic Web. Vertical Search businesses use whatever techniques they need – basic search engines, scrapers, APIs, human editors – to create some meaningful/useful structure in a single domain. Over time these cobbled together pragmatic solutions will be replaced by a semantic web platform, probably by an API that enables human editors to leverage their valuable domain expertise.

10. Tagging is the quietly disruptive technology. Everybody tags. It is the most basic human urge to mark what we find. We do it with Folders in Windows. We do it online with Bookmarks. Specialist tag Microformats such as Hcard and Hcalendar add more structure and we are only at the very start of this wave.

11. Semantic Web will leverage the “community” to add structure and this will use some techniques from first generation Social Networking. But it is very unlikely that Semantic Web will emerge from the walled gardens of current social networking sites. The winners will know how to motivate community to provide structure and will provide the tools that make the structuring so easy that nobody knows they are doing anything so boring as structuring. That is the big lesson from Web 2.0 that will be applied in the Semantic Web.

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