Mind to Market

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Web 3.0 Already?

In the midst of the Web 2.0 hype cycle is it time to begin the buzz on Web 3.0? Although Web 2.0 was a big step forward, its limitations are becoming apparent even as its definition has only just been resolved. The connections put in place by Web 2.0 by social networking, folksonomies and tagging have provided a higher level of functionality for some applications, but the connections are only loosely defined. Much more powerful functionality will come with better defined connections and structured frameworks.

Although the term Web 3.0 was never used by the founders of Semantic Web, there is a growing acceptance that the two are synonymous. Certainly the proponents of Semantic Web technologies, including Tim Berners-Lee, could benefit from the idea that their ideas will form the next version of the Web. And it appears that the public is ready for the technology as well, the functionality if not the demands it will require.

So what can Web 3.0 do that 2.0 cannot? For one it helps computers better "understand" terms used on the Web. What is the difference between a book and a basketball? Simpler technologies would recognize that they are spelled differently and that would be it. Web 3.0 will categorize them and provide them with a set of associations that will define what they are. A book is a subject that contains information and is associated to readers by a relationship called "is read by." Many such associations can connect the book to other objects, i.e. "is stored on" a bookshelf. As these associated networks grow, more knowledge about what a book is, and how it is distinguished from a basketball, is compiled and a clearer vision of book is developed.

This is a similar process to human learning and, like humans, as the knowledge networks grow they will become more "intelligent." The process will begin with specific knowledge domains, such as libraries of books, airline travel or drug development, and continue, theoretically, until the barriers between the domains break down and connections through the entire Web are established.

One obstacle will be the structure imposed by the Semantic Web. Web 2.0 calls for a very informal structure where users apply their own tags however they see fit or not at all. Semantic Web on the other hand, requires strict adherence if it's going to function correctly.

But the pay off for applying structure is inference and reasoning; the ability for the software to make connections when given the proper data. This ranges from simple inferences such as: if hepatitis is a disease and it occurs in the liver, it must be a disease of the liver. Although not rocket science for humans, assembling networks of logical statements in a structured framework will be a big step forward for computers.

Much of human knowledge is acquired over time and through experiences. This type of knowledge is stored away in the brain to be pulled out at a later time when certain associations may be required, say in diagnosing a disease. A less experienced physician may not have experienced a patient with certain symptoms that an older colleague would have. But an effective Web 3.0 knowledge base may supplement the less experienced physician's knowledge and allow her to operate as if she had the knowledge possessed by the more experienced physician.

The value of such a system in the hands of a skilled user is to rapidly amplify the knowledge that they can process. Web 3.0 technology has been called "XML on steroids." Given the discipline that is required to implement it however, its use will be constrained to only the most valuable markets for the near term.

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