The video above by Manu Sporny of Digital Bazaar provides a clear and simple overview of the semantic web for 'newbies', explaining the limitations of the internet in its current incarnation and the potential of next generation intelligent agent machines to help us find information.
While the greater semantic web shows great promise, it is going to be an immensely complex process linking up all content on the entire internet as it continues to grow - effectively tagging everything online. The task is arguably much more viable within the manageable boundaries of a specific business environment.
Information context is immensely important and powerful within the enterprise. We are all familiar with the huge document graveyards multiple Sharepoint shared drives and wikis can become - we spend time laboriously finding the location of information and then arriving at the single destination where it lives, over and over again.
While we have some very effective current generation enterprise 2.0 social network style software solutions for collaboration, there is an ongoing huge issue of scaling: an online environment for a team of say 40 can break down when it expands to 400, choking on its own success in a sea of information, for example. This is not the fault of the software but rather of the content being created and uploaded, which lacks the metadata which enables machines to filter and 'read' and process it.
Connectivity with parallel projects in similar environments can be even more challenging and labor intensive to keep current and relevant.
Intriguingly, the next generation of enterprise business software may prove to be more sophisticated than the current consumer web 2.0 experience.
The ability to provide contextually grouped rich content to employees within a well defined internal semantic web is much easier to achieve than the much bigger challenge of the consumer semantic web, and can tie in with IT security protocols whether on premise and behind firewalls, in the cloud or a combination.
By providing contextual connections in all company content, a new employee or partner will be able to get up to speed much faster, with connections being provided as they explore content in different applications, all unified by metadata.
Enterprise search, currently a huge challenge, particularly across multiple applications and their associated databases, will be transformed into a powerful context engine. The productivity and efficiency gains of this approach will be substantial, but more importantly the 'knowledge is power' factor provided by these rich referrals will create smarter minds more quickly. This also has major implications for training and learning management systems.
Thompson Reuters, who as a news organization have a vested interest in the world being as tagged as possible, are making great strides with their 'Open Calais' api, based on Clear Forest which they acquired in 2007. More on this later this month.
i mentioned the rich context example of the Freebase breakfast cereal 'base' in this post recently - http://breakfast.freebase.com/, another example is this 'base' for jazz musician John Coltrane, with various contextual possibilities and sub categories and groups.
These two 'base' examples provide a glimpse into a future enterprise organized around semantic logic and conventions. Pitching in to help build a much more interlinked next generation internet, and piping structured intelligent information like these examples into your website with data portability will be the consumer web of the future.
The enterprise version will be tagging and linking up all that content currently sitting in silos to make it more accessible and useful - building a centered, interconnected rich information tree of knowledge which has room to grow.