When constructing the Semantic Web, we are actually building two varied aspects simultaneously. One aspect is the Web that includes things such as the communication protocols, the Web data presentation formats, and so on. In particular, we have invented new technologies such as RDF, OWL, SPARQL, and other W3C recommended Semantic Web standards. The other aspect is the semantics that represent the meanings of Web data. Building semantics is, however, different from building the Web.

Building the Web is a professional activity. Ordinary users do not have the knowledge nor do they have the interest to design efficient network transmission protocols or data presentation formats. Hence to the end, these Web-construction issues can only be solved by few well-trained professionals. As long as the eventual results (i.e. the constructed Web) works well, ordinary users do not care what has been implemented technically.

Building semantics is, however, a different story. "Semantics" is a subjective term by contrast to "the Web" which is an objective term. For instance, to the same name Tony Blair George W. Bush will label and assign it the semantics such as ally and friend while Osama bin Laden will label and assign it the semantics such as enemy. So is Tony Blair a friend or an enemy? It very much depends on who answers or who searches the answers. Because of this reason, building semantics cannot be restricted to the hands of few professionals. By contrast, it must engage the participation of all Web users.

In a recent blog post, Nova Spivack emphasized that only the companies that have adopted Semantic Web technologies such as RDF and OWL in their infrastructure might be titled the "Semantic Web companies." Though this argument makes sense, it is not the precise declaration in my point of view.

As we just discussed, adopting technologies such as RDF and OWL helps build a web that can be enhanced by explicit semantic specifications. These technologies themselves do not mean semantics. No single company can substitute billions of Web users and to specify semantics for them since assigning semantics is a subjective issue. Only Web users can specify semantics by themselves and for themselves. So what Nova's argument suggested is actually the companies dedicated to building a web in contrast to building semantics. The companies dedicated to building semantics are the ones that focus on providing users facilities for declaring their own semantics.

Of course, however, Twine seems to match both categories by using Semantic Web technologies and encouraging user-specified semantics. Hence we can determine that Radar Networks is a Semantic Web company. By contrast, Digg is not a Semantic Web company yet even when it has tried to store data in RDF because it hardly encourages user-specified semantics.

About the author

Yihong Ding

I'm currently a Ph.D candidate in Brigham Young University with Prof. David W. Embley in Computer Science Department, Prof. Deryle W. Lonsdale in Linguistic Department, and Prof. Stephen W. Liddle in Marriott School of Management.

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