One of my pet peeves about technology is that too often, technologists co-opt a 50-cent word with an established meaning and apply it in a different context. I believe this has the effect of making technology appear much more unfathomable than it really is. If more attention would be paid to the naming of the technology, the use of the technology might be more readily apparent to the general public.
Take, for instance, the word "semantic," which dictionary.com defines as "of, pertaining to, or arising from the different meanings of words or other symbols." People know that when you say people are arguing over "semantics," their arguing over shades of meaning.
But now we have something called the "semantic web." It makes sense in a very distant, philosophical way -- haven't we been told the semantic web will correctly figure out the context of words? For instance, it will be able to ascertain when we mean "coke" as in cocaine and when we actually mean a soft drink?
But, really, the technology has little to do with semantics and much more to do with relationships between information, as Steve Cayzer, a semantic web researcher at Hewlett-Packard labs in Bristol UK, explains in this New Scientist article.
I think a lot of people get hung up on the word 'semantic'. It really means an information-rich model. But what some people might take it to mean is that there is a human-level understanding.
We're just now seeing the first commercial applications of semantic web technology, according to this article, which focuses primarily on a new site called Twine. Twine, which is in beta testing, is being billed as an "intelligent personal Web assistant."
Twine combines natural language processing with machine learning to "understand" and categorize your information. Twine is the work of San Francisco-based company, Radar Networks. One blogger compared it to a cross between Google, Facebook and del.icio.us.
But I wouldn't get too hyped up about the emergence of semantic web technology as a commercial venture just yet. Radar Networks founder and CEO, Nova Spivack, is quoted in the New Scientist article as saying that he'd like to think it will become more like a personal assistant than a web page in "the order of 10 years."
Ten years is a long, long time in technology. And that's a heck of a long wait for an ROI, don't you think?
On the other hand, Twine does have some interesting advertisement applications, as the article points out. And it's not the only effort to put semantic web technology to practical use. If you're interested in seeing for yourself just what this emerging technology can offer, the story includes links to Twine and other semantic web applications.