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James Lougheed

James Lougheed
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Browsing the Semantic Web: Part 1

Published by jloug099@uottawa.ca on 2012-02-11

Have you ever stopped to think about how fundamental a role the internet has taken on in our lives compared to five or ten years ago? A large majority of us depend on it for providing entertainment, finding information and going about our daily lives. I remember a day when going online didn’t seem worth the loading time, when I would go to a library first to research a topic, when the concept of online instant messaging seemed so new and exciting. Now, the web is a common one-stop source for, well, anything.


Since my recent plunge into the world of semantic technology, I have come across countless mentions of what is called the semantic web. As the use of semantic technology grows, the semantic web is becoming more and more a topic of interest since it changes the way we use the internet.


As the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines it, “The Semantic Web is a web of data (...) and provides a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries”. In other words, it connects different types of web data together and in an organized way. But how is this different from the way we use the internet now?


The traditional web as we know it is indeed connected with links that direct us from site to site and allow us to upload and download, among other things. With the semantic web, however, web data is given conceptual links to tie information together and “help computers ‘read’ and use the Web”. In a way, computers can understand the relationships between the words on a page. This can make web-related tasks incredibly simple since the computer can, to some degree, analyze data for us.


Say, for example, you are looking for a hotel in a vacation spot you are planning to visit in the coming weeks. While browsing different sites, you have a list of criteria that would constitute your ideal hotel room: size, location from downtown, price, amenities, availability, etc. With the traditional web, you will probably jump from site to site, jot down information and compare. With the semantic web, however, it is the computer that will retrieve this information and present it to you in an organized manner. By relating the data on a page, the computer can understand the relationship between a hotel room and its price, location and size. It is able to read the data and find what you need to know.


How is this applicable to language technology? Granted, the semantic web currently has a much larger influence on web developers and programmers than it does on language professionals. In my opinion, however, the semantic web is more applicable to the language industry than meets the eye. As I discussed in a previous post, the relation of words and concepts pose the greatest difficulty when translating and writing. After all, how can a computer understand something so complex? It seems, though, that we are getting closer.


As the semantic web is being incorporated into more and more websites, computers are becoming increasingly able to “read” text as more than just random data. In my next blog, I will discuss how the semantic web actually uses text on a page to understand its syntax and connect it all together. Hold on to your hats!



W3C Semantic Web Activity. W3C. 11 February 2012. http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/

How Semantic Web Works. Howstuffworks. 10 February 2012. http://www.howstuffworks.com/semantic-web.htm