Although Web 3.0, also known as the semantic Web, is a conceptual technology many years from maturation, the industry is already beginning to see how it might play out in the enterprise.
In the semantic Web, all content whether its text, images, video or something else will have descriptors that bring meaning, context and relevance to it. Smart search engines will infer what users are looking for and will comb the Internet to find only the information relevant to the users query.
For enterprises in this new era, traditional approaches to content, document and digital asset management are no longer enough. Instead, organizations need to find a way to harness their social intelligence and adopt a new way of thinking about knowledge management and search. Organizations need to be able to quickly harness the collective wisdom of its members, and use this wisdom to disambiguate and inform vetted content. The power of collaborative online communities can be used to add semantic understanding to enterprise content, which helps organizations improve productivity and search access, and, ultimately, become more competitive, innovative and effective.
Putting Words in Context
The transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 was a tremendous flip from one-way information dissemination to two-way read-write functionality. Web 1.0 was characterized by read-only content, static pages and brochureware.
Web 2.0 made those pages dynamic, rich, and interactive with the advent of tools such as AJAX. Social platforms like Blogger, Twitter and Facebook allow users to network, comment, share, collaborate, converse and more in real time.
Users have also been using these tools to add social tags to online information. For example, a user might use Mercury as tag for all records relating to the element Mercury. But the problem with social tagging is that tags are not domain specific. Mercury could not only refer the element, but the Greek god, the planet or the car. A keyword search for mercury yields information about any and all of these items. So if users want information about Mercury the planet, they will have to manually sift through irrelevant hits to find it.
Another problem with social tags is they have little contextual meaning. Consider a photograph of a person sitting under a maple tree. It was taken by someone named Mark Smith. A user might tag the photo with maple tree and Mark Smith, among other tags. But how does another user know that Mark Smith refers to the photographer and not the person photographed?
This confusion is ameliorated in the semantic Web environment, which promises full interactivity between applications, pages and users. Tags must have contextual meaning, perhaps through whats known as fielded wikis. These are fields designed to store certain types of information, which allows domain-specific information to be added to content.
So there might be a photographer field to fill in Mark Smith. There might be a subject field to fill in the name of the person in the photo. Other users (or programs such as a search robot) can now look at the photograph and its tags and know more about it and how to use it.
Fielded wikis should also enable users to find the content they want, faster. Because the source material is now tagged at the domain specific level, a semantic search engine would only need to clarify the search term and users would see much more relevant results than they do today.
Bringing Semantic Technology To The Enterprise
This semantic approach to content management and search is already carrying over to the enterprise. With social knowledge networks, companies can similarly tag records and capture socially intelligent metadata in ways that bring contextual meaning and relevance to those records.
Consider an architectural firm for example. Its storing CAD drawings. In their fielded wiki they want to capture intelligent information about their CAD drawings. Therefore they might create fields such as type of structure, name of structure, town located in, materials used, date of groundbreaking and completion, etc.
In the structure field, the user adding content to the wiki might type bridge; in the name field, St. George; in the town field, White Marsh; and so on. This way, other users know that St. George was the name of the bridge, not the town it was built in. Todays social tags are used at the document level, not the domain level, which creates ambiguity.
Or, say a consumer products firm is storing market presentations in its social knowledge network. It might have a fielded wiki for talking points for each slide. The sales team would input key talking points for each slide that others can refer to. This helps ensure all salespeople have the right information they need to give the presentation and wont mix up talking points for the various slides.
Semantic Web technology lets users dynamically discover and consume information, which becomes critically important for productivity. The key to effective fielded wikis is adding information that can be rapidly found and easily understood by other users in the proper context.
A good knowledge network ensures that metadata and social data being added reduces confusion about vetted data. The system would also enable users to find records directly related to their search query more easily and quickly.
So lets stop the Web 3.0 hype; parts of the semantic Web are already here, while other parts lie in the distant future. Because language has so much ambiguity, it will take time before content is fully semantically enabled and search engines know exactly what someone is looking for when they query mercury. So if I had to predict how long it will take before Web 3.0, the semantic Web, arrives, I would have to say the semantic Web will arrive gradually day by day, and it will take a long time for us to reach a state where semantic meaning is everywhere.
One major challenge in semantic Web development will be retaining the simplicity of Web 2.0 while adding the ability to provide contextual meaning. The beauty of Web 2.0 tools is that anyone can use them with virtually no training. Thats whats made Web 2.0 tools so popular and why they work so well. For Web 3.0 to reach mass adoption, it will have to retain this user-friendliness, but add lots of intelligence. This will not be easy.
But once its here, semantic Web technology will undoubtedly change how we interact and access information both within and outside the firewall. The semantic Web provides an approach that fosters richer repositories with better and smarter tags.
It promises to be a system where people and information co-exist, content is easily searched and accessed, and information is relevant and of high quality. Its a place where content management becomes social intelligence.
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