What is the Semantic Web?


The idea behind the semantic web is that although online data is available for searching, its meaning is not: computers are very good at returning keywords, but very bad at understanding the context in which keywords are used. A typical search on the term “turkey,” for instance, might return traditional recipes, information about the bird, and information about the country; the search engine can only pick out keywords, and cannot distinguish among different uses of the words. Similarly, although the information required to answer a question like “How many current world leaders are under the age of 60?” is readily available to a search engine, it is scattered among many different pages and sources.

Semantic-aware applications infer the meaning, or semantics, of information on the Internet to make connections and provide answers that would otherwise entail a great deal of time and effort. New applications use the context of information as well as the content to make determinations about relationships between bits of data; examples like TripIt, SemaPlorer, and Xobni organize information about travel plans, places, or email contacts and display it in convenient formats based on semantic connections. Semantic searching is being applied for scientific inquiries, allowing researchers to find relevant information without having to deal with apparently similar, but irrelevant, information. For instance, Noesis, a new semantic web search engine developed at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is designed to filter out search hits that are off-topic. The search engine uses a discipline-specific semantic ontology to match search terms with relevant results, ensuring that a search on "tropical cyclones" will not turn up information on sports teams or roller coasters.

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How can we maximise the ability of Higher and Further Education institutions and their learning technology innovators to take advantage of this emerging technology and its applications?

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INSTRUCTIONS: Enter your responses to the questions below. This is most easily done by moving your cursor to the end of the last item and pressing RETURN to create a new bullet point. Please include URLs whenever you can (full URLs will automatically be turned into hyperlinks; please type them out rather than using the linking tools in the toolbar).

Please "sign" your contributions by marking with the code of 4 tildes (~) in a row so that we can follow up with you if we need additional information or leads to examples- this produces a signature when the page is updated, like this: - Larry Larry Apr 14, 2011

(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • The focus here on the Semantic Web seems somewhat out of line with current W3C emphasis on Linked Data, which focuses primarily on openness, the assignment of URIs to everything of interest (including both real world objects and conceptual entities) and the creation of a 'web of data' (i.e. using the URIs to create typed links between stuff. This makes the description feel rather dated to me. It would be better to focus on the 'web of data' rather than on the 'semantic web'. Semantic Web has connotations of AI, which tends to be off-putting to some parties. That said, Linked Data has associations with complexity, largely because there is a heavy emphasis on the need to model data before marking it up, which, again, is off-putting in some areas. - andy.powell andy.powell May 18, 2011
  • By assigning URIs to everything of interest (including to the properties used to annotate the data) one can look-up more information (retrieve a representation) of everything in a 'follow-your-nose' kind of way. Further, annotations and descriptions can be attached to resources in a 'small-pieces-loosely-joined' kind of way. - andy.powell andy.powell May 18, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, research or information management within the next five years?

  • The potential impact here is a much richer base of interlinked data (including research data, library materials and a wide range of other resources) being made available to teachers, learners and researchers. - andy.powell andy.powell May 18, 2011
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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