Home' Technology Review : March April 2007 Contents 64 FEATURE STORY
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
Last year, Eric Miller, an MIT-a liated computer sci-
entist, stood on a beach in southern France, watch-
ing the sun set, studying a document he d printed
earlier that afternoon. A March rain had begun to
fall, and the ink was beginning to smear.
Five years before, he d agreed to lead a diverse group
of researchers working on a project called the Semantic
Web, which seeks to give computers the ability---the seem-
ing intelligence---to understand content on the World Wide
Web. At the time, he d made a list of goals, a copy of which
he now held in his hand. If he d achieved those goals, his
part of the job was done.
Taking stock on the beach, he crossed o items one by
one. The Semantic Web initiative s basic standards were in
place; big companies were involved; startups were merging
or being purchased; analysts and national and inter national
newspapers, not just technical publications, were writing
about the project. Only a single item remained: taking the
technology mainstream. Maybe it was time to make this
happen himself, he thought. Time to move into the busi-
ness world at last.
"For the Semantic Web, it was no longer a matter of if
but of when," Miller says. "I felt I could be more useful by
helping people get on with it."
Now, six months after the launch of his own Zepheira, a
consulting company that helps businesses link fragmented
data sources into easily searched wholes, Miller s beachside
decision seems increasingly prescient. The Semantic Web
community s grandest visions, of data-sur ng computer ser-
vants that automatically reason their way through problems,
have yet to be ful lled. But the basic technologies that Miller
shepherded through research labs and standards commit-
tees are joining the everyday Web. They can be found every-
where---on entertainment and travel sites, in business and
scienti c databases---and are forming the core of what some
promoters call a nascent "Web 3.0."
New technologies will make online search more
intelligent---and may even lead to a "Web 3.0."
A Smarter Web
By John Borland
Illustrations by Polly Becker
Already, these techniques are helping developers stitch
together complex applications or bring once-inaccessible
data sources online. Semantic Web tools now in use improve
and automate database searches, helping people choose
vacation destinations or sort through complicated nan-
cial data more e ciently. It may be years before the Web is
populated by tr uly intelligent software agents automatically
doing our bidding, but their precursors are helping people
nd better answers to questions today.
The "3.0" claim is ambitious, casting these new tools as
successors to several earlier---but still viable---generations of
Net technology. Web 1.0 refers to the rst generation of the
commercial Internet, dominated by content that was only
marginally interactive. Web 2.0, characterized by features
such as tagging, social networks, and user-created taxono-
mies of content called "folksonomies," added a new layer of
interactivity, represented by sites such as Flickr, Del.icio.us,
Analysts, researchers, and pundits have subsequently
argued over what, if anything, would deser ve to be called
"3.0." De nitions have ranged from widespread mobile
broadband access to a Web full of on-demand software ser-
vices. A much-read article in the New York Times last Novem-
ber clari ed the debate, however. In it, John Marko de ned
Web 3.0 as a set of technologies that o er e cient new ways
to help computers organize and draw conclusions from online
data, and that de nition has since dominated discussions at
conferences, on blogs, and among entrepreneurs.
The 3.0 moniker has its critics. Miller himself, like many
in his research community, frowns at the idea of apply-
ing old-fashioned software release numbers to a Web that
evolves continually and on many fronts. Yet even skeptics
acknowledge the advent of something qualitatively di erent.
Early versions of technologies that meet Marko s de ni-
tion are being built into the new online TV service Joost.
They ve been used to organize Yahoo s food section and
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