Buzz’s Blog: On Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web

Mar 5 2009   5:05AM GMT

Multimedia, what is it? Why do we care?

Roger King Roger King Profile: Roger King

This is the fourth in a series of blogs on the Semantic Web and Web 2.0/3.0.

To get us going here, just what is “multimedia”? At one level, it simply refers to applications that manipulate, store, and/or present multiple kinds of media, such as text, video, relational data, sound, animation, etc. More pragmatically, it refers to the introduction of blob and continuous forms of data into applications that traditionally manage simple data, like character strings and numbers. In its most aggressive form, multimedia refers to the sophisticated integration of traditional, blob, and continuous data into integrated data forms that convey their own semantics.

A quick note: Blob data is data that is stored in a semantics-less fashion, usually as simple binary or character data. This could be almost any sort of data, such as images, video, sound, or natural language – but the key element is that the language or system being used to manipulate it doesn’t have an appropriate, specific data type. Blob data is often large, of variable size, and usually requires a sophisticated, outside application to interpret and present it. It is the default, catch-all way to store advanced forms of data in relational database management systems.

Another quick note: Continuous data is data that has a temporal aspect or can be broken down into segments that have their own identity. The visual part of video can be broken into clips; in fact, it can be broken all the way down to individual pixel-based images. Sound can be cut into pieces. James Joyce’s Ulysses is a big piece of continuous textual data. Like blob data, we typically need an outside appliation to interpret it. (Even the most complex application, a human, generally has trouble doing this with Ulysses.)

Back to the Semantic Web, Web 2.0/3.0, and multimedia.

In a previous blog, we tried to define these two terms and explain why they are very different concepts. The Semantic Web is an attempt to automate the searching of the web and the integration of data collected on the web; the idea is to greatly ease the painful interactive nature of using a search engine like Google. Web 2.0/3.0 (and no, there is no sharp distinction between the two) are largely about performance, of making web applications as responsive as possible, potentially as responsive as desktop applications.

But they share one common goal: effectively managing advanced forms of media. From the Semantic Web perspective, how can we search things like sound, images, video, and natural language in a semantically-meaningful way? We use sophisticated tags and image/sound processing to do this, but it is only a small step toward a solution.

From a Web 2.0/3.0 perspective, how can we deliver up such forms of media in way that is highly responsive? Video streaming on the web is a huge challenge, for example. Or, how can we interact with video in a responsive way, in such things as games and digital libraries?

The web, in fact, is inately multimedia: we take images, icons, links, text, video, sound, and various user controls like buttons and menus, and put them together in highly sophisticated ways. And behind these web pages, databases often sit, populating dynamic pages with information in response to user requests – this data is virtually invisible to search engines. This is what makes the Semantic Web in particular such an incredible challenge. How can we ever hope to search the web automatically?

There are modest advancements that have been made. One example is something called the Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL, pronounced like the facial phenomena). It is an XML extension that supports basic constructs to glue multiple forms of media together in two dimensions and in temporal sequences. Using XML elements and attributes (the basic constructs of XML), we can create multimedia presentations in a precise, unambiguous way.

SMIL presentations can be processed automatically. This is very significant.

So, multimedia: it’s at the core of both the Semantic Web and Web 2.0/3.0. It is one of the basic motivations for their existence.

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