When I think about the semantic web, I think of a richer web that has meaning and shows relationships. This is probably a little too simplistic, but it’s easier for me to think of it in this way and then build on that definition. In this video, visionary Tim Berners-Lee provides more insight into the semantic web concept. He describes an interaction between humans and computers that allows for a greater manipulation of data. This in turn effects and enhances not only personal endeavors, but it also provides science and medicine with tools that will significantly advance treatments and discoveries. If I follow this correctly, human and computer interaction is what underlies the meaning and relationships that I previously considered the semantic web.

Discussions of the semantic web usually include RDF. In the video, Berners-Lee says (roughly speaking) that RDF is to data what HTML is to documents. Our class has collected a few resources on RDF at Diigo. It’s described here as a framework “created to provide a language for describing things on the web.” Despite the information that the class resources provide, I was still having trouble grasping how RDF metadata fit into the bigger picture of the semantic web. I found this ppt from a fellow Diigo user that describes RDF’s place in the architecture of the semantic web in a way that makes sense to me:

The first layer is RDF (metadata): allows facts to be asserted such as “person X is named ‘Drew.”

The second layer (here’s the meaning) is the RDF schema: lets you describe vocabularies and use them to describe things such as “person X is a living person.”

The third layer (here’s the relationships) is OWL (web ontology language-an acronym that makes sense to friends of Winnie the Pooh): which lets you describe the relationships between vocabularies such as “persons in schema A are the same thing as users in schema B.”

And so, I think, the point is that if all web documents (created by humans) adhered to this framework, computers could then bring all that information together at incredible speeds. All that information, located on the web, coordinated by computers for human consumption.

As Berners-Lee points out, this really has incredible implications for biomedicine, where different disciplines merge to prevent, treat, and cure disease. This article, in BMC Bioinformatics, illustrates a possible scenario where a semantic web is utilized in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. This sort of information is compelling because it shows a real use case that might just motivate institutions, groups, and individuals to adopt semantic web standards.