Exec touts Semantic Web

The Semantic Web, a concept in which documents and data are composed with precise XML descriptors for Web deployment, has been misunderstood but offers promise for improving Web-based communications, said a keynote speaker at the XML Web Services One conference here last Thursday.

Speaking of the Semantic Web as the "hero," and obstacles such as lack of understanding as the "villains," William Ruh, senior vice president of professional services at Software AG, stressed that the concept can enable streamlined communications for applications such as business-to-business commerce.

"Our hero, the Semantic Web, is really trying to take the Web [as it is] today and make sure it [maintains] the beauty of the Web but [loses] the deficiencies of the Web," Ruh said. Software AG offers products for enabling the Semantic Web: the Tamino XML Server and EntireX integration software.

There are three cornerstones of the Semantic Web, according to Ruh. These include XML tags; ontology, a document file that defines relations among terms; and RDF (Resource Description Framework), for structuring what is being defined in XML.

The mission of these three concepts is to provide interoperability between applications that exchange machine-understandable information on the Web, Ruh explained.

There are three reasons, or villains, that have kept the Semantic Web from succeeding, Ruh said. These include the fact that most documents are not tagged and are paper-based, and there are no tools to do the markups; because there is a lack of understanding of technologies such as RDF; and due to corporate confusion.

The word ontology alone "scares the heck out of people," Ruh said.

The Semantic Web presents a way to provide semantics oriented around the nature of a business, Ruh added.

Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst at Zap Think in Waltham, Mass., was skeptical about the chances for the Semantic Web, however.

"The Semantic Web is a good idea, since we're definitely walking our way up the integration 'stack.' As soon as we solve business process and workflow problems, semantic problems are coming up. However, it's also a classically very difficult problem to solve -- if we can solve [it] at all. We shouldn't have to wait five to 10 years for us to solve these problems in order for us to utilize Web services," Schmelzer said.

"While the Semantic Web is a useful exercise to help us nail out the complex issues involved in tying together businesses, its practical use [won't be seen] for years -- if not decades -- to come," Schmelzer said.

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