Berners-Lee Maps Vision of a Web Without Walls

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2004-12-02 Print this article Print

Comparing tomorrow's Semantic Web to a huge data bus, Web founder Tim Berners-Lee says it will change the way people handle data by providing a common framework for it to be shared and reused across applications, enterprises and community boundaries.

BOSTON—To envision the Internet of the future, W3C director and WWW founding father Tim Berners-Lee suggested during the W3Cs 10-year birthday bash here Wednesday, first envision groceries—say a box of rice. On the boxs side, in small, rice grain-sized type, you will find nutrition information. On its back, you will find directions on how to cook it. Somewhere else you may find a URL that you can use to research any number of rice-related things: recipes, country of agricultural origin, Uncle Ben company data or relevant information pertaining to the allergenic nature of rice, perhaps. The Web of the future, for which Berners-Lee, the W3C and other research and industrial partners have been working to lay the foundation since about 2000, will give us a rice box that, when scanned, electronically unfurls that multifaceted, rice-related Web of data—without having to squint at dinky type.
Thats one small example of the futuristic architecture called the Semantic Web. The new Web paradigm provides a common framework for data to be shared and reused across applications, enterprises and community boundaries. Its founded on XML-based integration of applications as well as URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers) for naming. Its exciting stuff, but it is as difficult to explain why as it was difficult to explain, 10 years ago, what was so exciting about the Web, Berners-Lee said during the W3Cs daylong birthday celebration. Click here to read more about the future of the Web as envisioned at the W3Cs 10-year anniversary celebration. "Pre-Web, it was really, really difficult to explain to anybody why the Web was exciting," he said. "I could show them a window, click on a line of text, then another window would pop up. Big deal. The idea that that link could go anywhere, you could say that in English, but it takes a certain amount of imagination [to picture the potential]." Nonetheless, work on the Semantic Web is ramping up. In February, the W3C released recommendations for two of its major foundations: the RDF (Resource Description Framework) and the OWL (Web Ontology Language). The W3C also has begun to roll out workshops to educate those who are likely to be early adopters of the framework: In October, it held a workshop for life sciences. That workshop was "packed," Berners-Lee said, because life scientists already understand the implications of being able to look at data thats been broken out of the locks imposed by application silos. "They have a huge amount of data," he said, such as oceans of data about genomes, for example. Does the United States need a bio bank in order to make headway in genomics research? Click here to read more. Being able to float on that ocean instead of drowning in it is immediately compelling, he said. "People [were] explaining why, in their area, when they started to use Semantic Web ideas, they could do things much more powerfully than they could before, when they realize theyre communicating with people and trading information across the barrier." Next Page: A prototype app knocks down the partitions between repositories.

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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