Monday May 17, 2010

The next web with @wragge

Tim Sherratt - by trib (Flickr) CC BY-NC-SA

Tim Sherratt (@wragge) spoke at the RISG seminar about the Semantic Web and Linked Data.

It’s a slippery topic – just as you think you’ve grasped the idea, you get into the detail and it slips from your fingers. Tim said something about “brains turn to mush” at one point, but credit to him for such an engaging introduction to the topic.

The semantic web is about context. Tim said that links as we know them are dumb. They are simply pointers to locations, ‘web addresses.’ The semantic web adds meaning to the links. As an example, he showed a piece of text on The Dismissal. Smart links (semantic links) would allow a machine to know that the Whitlam referred to in the article was a person, Gough Whitlam, born 1916, an Australian Prime Minister. It could distinguish this Whitlam from other Whitlams, this Prime Minister from other Prime Ministers.

With systems that provide context, machines can traverse the web, answering complex questions by autonomously discovering linkages between things in an ecosystem of billions and billions of ‘things.’

Librarians know better than most the value of bibliographic systems, and that’s perhaps one starting point to getting a handle on ‘linked data.’

To help us on our way, Tim Sherratt has built some tools (toys). His blog post QUICK CATCH UP gives more background.

My favourite is the History Wall where you can scroll down through Australia’s recorded history. (You can also append a starting year to the URL, e.g. The app goes off to a bunch of national archives, programmatically finds content that shares a date, and returns this newly assembled, serendipitous blob to the viewer.

Tim is currently playing with semantic Flickr photo tagging, so keep an eye on his blog for the Flickr Machine Tag Challenge.

Finally, when searching on “semantic web,” I came across this short video Web 3.0 that is well worth watching as an introduction to some of the challenges posed by a super-abundance of information. “Our ability to create information has far exceeded our ability to manage it,” says one of the speakers. You’ll also hear some dissenting voices.

A story about the Semantic Web by Kate Ray

Photo credit: Tim Sherratt by Stephen Collins (Flickr) CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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