Despite its marketing overtones, a batch of technologies that make up the Semantic Web could give Google some serious competition.
Understanding what terms mean and how they relate, in short, makes for better search results. Conversely, the absence of understanding in current search systems explains the general dissatisfaction with search results.
"In the '90s, U2 had that hit song, 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For,'" says Schmitt. "Well, that is now a hit song in enterprises today. Users have search on top of ERP, search on top of data warehouses, search on top of SharePoint, and search on top of internal wikis. None of them work together. Employees may be able to do simple searches but they can't find what they don't know about. They can't find how things are related to each other. That's a problem today."
Add blogs, RSS feeds, the user-generated information on the Internet, and the problem only looks worse. Trite as it has become to bemoan the information explosion and to complain that search falls flat, such sentiment is widespread.
You hear it the most from companies trying to sell search software in the shadow of Google. And perhaps with good reason. Spivack claims, "The Semantic Web is one of the few things that could give Google some serious competition."
But Web 3.0 is about more than just search. It's about how meaning can enhance computation in general. "You can start to actually make applications that can understand a pretty wide range of data without having to be specifically programmed to understand that data," says Spivack.
In a reversal of current trends, enterprise companies have blazed a path to the Semantic Web ahead of consumer-oriented companies. Oracle in February announced that it had incorporated Siderean's Seamark Navigator system to find more relevant information through semantic search. TopQuadrant has just released a Semantic Web development tool called TopBraid Composer 2.0. Cognition Technologies, working with Everest Technologies, in January introduced a new litigation support system called EverQuest that uses semantic search. (Attorneys at both companies seem to have missed the fact that this is a relatively well-known trademark in the gaming world.)
But consumer-facing applications are coming soon. Metaweb Technologies recently announced an invitation-only alpha test for Freebase, a structured, searchable, writeable and editable database similar to Wikipedia, but based on semantic technology. And Radar Networks plans soon to detail its social semantic search platform, which is based on work the company did for DARPA and SRI on a knowledge management research project called CALO (Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes).
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