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Government agencies have conducted similar trials, with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) investing heavily in its own research and prototype projects based on the Semantic Web standards. The agency’s former Information Exploitation Office program manager Mark Greaves, who oversaw much of its Semantic Web work, remains an enthusiastic backer.

“What we’re trying to do with the Semantic Web is build a digital Aristotle,” says Greaves, now senior research program manager at Paul Allen’s investment company, Vulcan, which is sponsoring a large-scale artificial-intelligence venture called Project Halo that will use Semantic Web data-representation techniques. “We want to take the Web and make it more like a database, make it a system that can answer questions, not just get a pile of documents that might hold an answer.”

Into the Real World

If Miller’s sunset epiphany showed him the path forward, the community he represented was following similar routes. All around him, ideas that germinated for years in labs and research papers are beginning to take root in the marketplace.

But they’re also being savagely pruned. Businesses, even Miller’s Zepheira, are adopting the simplest Semantic Web tools while putting aside the more ambitious ones. Entrepreneurs are blending Web 2.0 features with Semantic Web data-­handling techniques. Indeed, if there is to be a Web 3.0, it is likely to include only a portion of the Semantic Web community’s work, along with a healthy smattering of other technologies. “The thing being called Web 3.0 is an important subset of the Semantic Web vision,” says Jim Hendler, professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who was one of the initiative’s pioneer theorists. “It’s really a realization that a little bit of Semantic Web stuff with what’s called Web 2.0 is a tremendously powerful technology.”

Much of that technology is still invisible to consumers, as big companies internally apply the Semantic Web’s efficient ways of organizing data. Miller’s Zepheira, at least today, is focused on helping them with that job. Zepheira’s pitch to companies is fairly simple, perhaps looking once again to Dewey’s disorganized libraries. Businesses are awash in inaccessible data on intranets, in unconnected databases, even on employees’ hard drives. For each of its clients, Zepheira aims to bring all that data into the light, code it using Semantic Web techniques, and connect it so that it becomes useful across the organization. In one case, that might mean linking Excel documents to payroll or customer databases, in another, connecting customer accounts to personalized information feeds. These disparate data sources would be tied together with RDF and other Semantic Web mechanisms that help computerized search tools find and filter information more efficiently.

One of the company’s early clients is Citigroup. The banking giant’s global head of capital markets and banking technology, Chris Augustin, is heading an initiative to use semantic technologies to organize and correlate information from diverse financial-data feeds. The goal is to help identify capital-market investment opportunities. “We are interested in providing our customers and traders with the latest information in the most relevant and timely manner to help them make the best decisions quickly,” says Rachel Yager, the program director overseeing the effort.

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Credit: Polly Becker

Tagged: Computing, MIT, Internet, networks, Web 2.0, semantic web, semantic

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