Web 3.0 Gets Under Way

TopQuadrant and Franz team on semantic Web development environment and database.
Just in time for the Web 2.0 Expo 2007 last week, a piece of Web 3.0 arrived. Programming tool makers TopQuadrant and Franz said they'll combine TopQuadrant's TopBraid Composer and Franz's AllegroGraph 64-bit RDF Store database into a semantic Web development environment and database that will make computers smarter.

Semantic technology, which helps computers understand data better, is particularly useful when combining large data sets. It's also useful for search applications because semantic technology lets computers infer relationships among data elements that aren't explicitly defined. A keyword search generally returns only documents that contain the queried keyword. A semantic search would return ones related to the specific meaning of the search term (i.e., military tank but not water tank), as well as those related to synonyms (i.e., armored vehicle).

The semantic Web doesn't exist yet, largely because the available tools aren't up to the task. "We had to build the tools to make all this semantic Web stuff fly," says Ralph Hodgson, co-founder and executive partner at TopQuadrant. Public domain tools, like Protege and Swoop, aren't tools businesses are going to want to use, he says.

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Semantic applications tend not to scale well using standard databases and development environments. "You can program your way out of any corner," says Hodgson. "It just takes a lot of effort."

There are a variety of semantic Web specs, protocols, and languages including RDF, Web Ontology Language, and Sparql, as well as related technologies like XML, that give developers the ability to organize data in a semantic framework. What the TopQuadrant-Franz combo adds is an Eclipse-based graphic development environment and a database designed to scale with massive amounts of RDF data.

GlaxoSmithKline is testing AllegroGraph to provide a more flexible IT infrastructure and increased productivity through automation. The pharmaceutical company is experimenting with an abstraction layer of semantic data. The wet lab work in which most pharmaceutical companies engage produces too much data, says Robin McEntire, director of knowledge-based systems at GSK. "So we want to aggregate it and present it at a higher level," he says. "Having semantics is a great help for us in that."

The goal is to apply computer-based reasoning to evaluate and filter massive amounts of experimental data. "Low-level reasoning is a good place for us to start, where tasks that our scientists do, that aren't really rocket science but are time-intensive tasks, can be automated with this technology," McEntire says.

Eastman Kodak is using AllegroGraph to help customers manage their increasingly unmanageable collections of digital images by having the tool infer meaning from visual data. "Semantic understanding will remove the obstacles and provide the tools that have stood between consumers and their goal of telling their personal stories with the maximum impact," Kodak chairman and CEO Antonio Perez said in a speech last year. "The pictures begin to recognize each other--so, without human instruction, a picture will use its metadata to find another picture with related metadata, so that all the pictures keep assembling in new groups, depending on how they relate to each other."

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