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

May 17 2009   3:45AM GMT

The Internet of Things Meets the Internet of Web Apps.

Roger King Roger King Profile: Roger King

Injecting Smarts into the Semantic Web and Web 2.0/3.0.

In our continuing series on advanced web technology, we’ve looked at the difference between the Semantic Web and Web 2.0/3.0. We’ve also looked closely at the Semantic Web, and in particular, we’ve discussed what we mean by that word “semantic“. And with respect to Web 2.0/3.0, we’ve considered just what constitutes an advanced web app. And we’ve looked at some specific advanced apps.

But one thing has stood out above all else: the new world of web applications depends on our ability to make web apps smarter. At the core of this are a handful of key technological advances: namespaces, XML languages, full text searching, and web services. Still, as we have seen, we can only crudely mimic intelligence, which we do largely by using a complex mixture of standards, heuristics, and pre-made components.

Importantly, this issue of being smart is very old, and has been a far off goal of the folks who build software development tools since the very early days of computing. In truth, some of the things that seem new and exciting to us have actually been around for a long time, and have existed under multiple names.

But this base of intelligence-injecting technology, could it be used to give the Semantic Web and Web 2.0/3.0 a shot in the arm? Can we leverage the greater world of smart technology to make the new web even more powerful?

Let’s focus on just one technology that has been around a while, but is still vibrant and rapidly growing.

The Internet of Things.

This idea is centered around the idea that the objects in our world would serve us a lot better if computers could coordinate their use. Of particular interest are mobile objects. One of the key components behind this idea are RFID tags. RFID stands for “radio frequency identification”. A tag can be attached to almost anything. After they are deployed, an RFID reader can send out a signal, which is picked up by the RFID tags, when then respond. As things move around, as things are used in concert to perform tasks, they can be carefully tracked and managed.

Other technologies for tracking objects can be employed, too, and RFID is just one example of something that is fairly cheap and very dependable.

It’s also true that objects can respond with more than a “Yo, I’m here.” In particular, they are likely to tell us exactly where they are, and whether they are in use. But for the most part, these things tend to be fairly inert when it comes to intelligence. They might be warehouse items or objects in retail stores. Volume is a key factor. RFID tags are cheap enough that an organization can tag tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of items.

Immobile Things, but Mobile Users.

We can use the Internet of things concept in another mode. The objects might be immobile, but the users might be highly mobile, and they might be carrying the tags. The objects might have computing capabilities in them, as well. If I work in a secure facility, and if I use a variety of computing devices in the course of the workday, I can be carefully tracked. And every machine could be engineered to allow me to perform only those functions for which I have been authorized. The computers could also track suspicious trends that involve multiple machines and multiple users over a period of time.

The Internet of Things and the Internet of Web Apps.

What does this all have to do with the Internet we are concerned with in this blog, the one that hosts next generation web apps? The two worlds could be blended together.

Consider this. When we buy things on the web, we normally use one of two retail models. If the object is software or data or in any downloadable electronic form, the website can ensure that by the end of the shopping session, our credit card has been paid and we have received the goods. This makes both the seller and the user happy.

Or, if the object is physical, like a printed book, the website will ensure that by the end of the session, our credit card has been charged, and we have been given a shipping number, a shipping date, or some other piece of information that gives us some assurance that we will get what we paid for. In this mode, the seller is likely to be quite happy, and the buyer might not be quite so happy.

But there’s another way. At the end of retail session, the buyer of a physical product could be given the ID of the particular object being purchased, and then, via the retail website, track that object nonstop from the moment the session ends until the moment it arrives. The buyer could even track the construction of a purchased object out of many subcomponents.

The Bigger Picture.

Here’s something to think about, something else that can be used in concert with the advanced web technology and the Internet of things concept. It’s called “ubiquitous computing”, and it is a concept that has been around for many years. It refers to the expansion of computing technology into every aspect of our lives.

Putting all of this technology together means that the new web is working its way into law enforcement, supply chains, manufacturing processes, retail shopping, education, etc., etc., etc.

This will have a huge impact over the next decade.

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