The Future of the Web

The Future of the Web

Summary: The semantic web can be quite a hard concept to grasp when discussed in an abstract way: the above video is a particularly useful, clear exposition of the enormous promise and power the future of knowledge sharing holds.Parallax, a novel browsing interface designed by David Huynh to manipulate Freebase, shows how contextual connections can be made with machine readable data to provide a much richer results set which in turn can spawn fascinating visual representations, and more.


The semantic web can be quite a hard concept to grasp when discussed in an abstract way: the above video is a particularly useful, clear exposition of the enormous promise and power the future of knowledge sharing holds.

Parallax, a novel browsing interface designed by David Huynh to manipulate Freebase, shows how contextual connections can be made with machine readable data to provide a much richer results set which in turn can spawn fascinating visual representations, and more.

Freebase is the foundational 800lb gorilla in the semantic space, quietly building momentum to create a 'global knowledge base: a structured, searchable, writeable and editable database built by a community of contributors, and open to everyone....It could be described as a data commons'.

Still technically in alpha, Freebase will be the underpinnings of many future companies - some would say this approach is the future of the entire Internet.

It’s built by the community and for the community – free for anyone to query, contribute to, build applications on top of, or integrate into their websites - basically an open database of the world’s information.

Freebase covers millions of topics in hundreds of categories. Drawing from large open data sets like Wikipedia, MusicBrainz, and the SEC archives, it contains structured information on many popular topics, including movies, music, people and locations – all reconciled and freely available via an open API. This information is supplemented by the efforts of a passionate global community of users who are working together to add structured information on everything from philosophy to European railway stations to the chemical properties of common food ingredients.

By structuring the world’s data in this manner, the Freebase community is creating a global resource that will one day allow people and machines everywhere to access information far more easily and quickly than they can today.

W3C director Sir Tim Berners-Lee's long term vision of the Web as a universal medium for data, information, and knowledge exchange would make it possible for the web to understand and satisfy the requests of people and machines.

The 'people operated' side of things is the world we live in today. As David Huynh's video discusses, we busy ourselves manually searching by keyword in multiple locations and then compile our results.

Google is essentially a media company - as Tom Foremski succinctly points out here - logging your actions for Ad Word generation like a supermarket rewards card program while leveraging brute force search of the indexed web as you search for your keywords and phrases.

Wikipedia is essentially a single destination site, which means lots of laborious single issue searching.

The semantic web is a vision of information that is understandable by computers, so that they can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding, sharing and combining information on the web.

This semantic, machine-read next generation enables much richer search. So if you are looking for information about pinball machines for example, this Freebase example gives you a rich contextual grouping of related and highly relevant information.

Machines doing all the work is the next generation - humans asking questions of HAL is still a very long way off (fortunately) but the power illustrated today by the Parallax browsing interface, which is accessing Freebase to leverage its powerful range of connections (enabled by accessing 'multi-typed data') is highly impressive.

You can try the Parallax search interface here, although at this point it is slow (it does cache your results however). Enterprise search is notoriously hard: this level of functionality will ultimately have a major impact on find-ability in large enterprises.

There is much more to Freebase than this fascinating parallax browsing interface - I highly recommend taking the time to explore and contribute content!

Topics: Collaboration, Browser, CXO


Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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  • Good stuff

    The video is nice.
  • RE: The Future of the Web

    A lot to think about here! You'd be glad to know that there are people even on the BMJ talking about the future of the web in relation to Medicine.
  • Nice, but...

    Content is king. The artist who creates a song is far more significant than the listener who plays it. Likewise, Wikipedia has the data for tools like this to manipulate. Today, the major problem is locating data spread across the Internet (Google) with analysis of the data being a lesser but increasing need.

    The quality of data is critical when doing analysis. Data bases that allow misspellings prevent effective subsetting and comparison. The challenge of this application is how to parse and trust the disparate and inconsistent web data created with no standards.
    • worried about the accuracy

      As a teacher, I am worried about the accuracy of the information presented -- is the data source reputable. In my own studies, I try to find multiple sources and investigate further if I find conflicting information. If the internet search results in ?disparate and inconsistent web data created with no standards?, how can we be sure we are not leading our students down a false path?
      • That is why I teach

        That is why I teach my students the skills needed to evaluate online (or any) resources and to triangulate information to ensure accuracy. Like online information, textbooks and peer-reviewed sources are not immune to inaccuracy.
      • As a teacher, you should be worried about the accuracy of textbooks too

        The state of educational materials in our country today is a shambles. Books riddled with errors, attributions to authors who never contributed content, changes made to content for political reasons, it's a disaster.

        And unlike a database, errors printed in a textbook are permanent.
      • Re: worried about the accuracy

        Unfortunately with the state of Web 2.0, there is no standard of ethics that once exited in journalism. As in journalism, all web information needs to be verifiable by one or more unique sources. All to often, I see snippets of the same words copied from site to site. That to me, is not verification, it is repetition.

        Good Luck!
      • You have a point, however..

        You have a point but this is no different than any other source.

        I mean, wikipedia is updated by PEOPLE and that one person could be wrong. I saw once a question posted about how you define atmospheric pressure or rather, how deep are you at 1 ATM, 2 ATM and so on and someone replied INCORRECTLY before a couple of other people corrected him/her. This can happen anywhere and I've heard of books in schools with plenty of incorrect info.

        There's no way EVERY piece of info on the web CAN be verified from multiple sources.

        I think this is a great idea though..

      • But thats the same problem with

        anywhere you search on the web. A lot of user generated content is now available so questioning any answer is the key and exactly what you should and would expect from young students. Question everything!
    • But but but

      Yep you are right we need to be carefull of content or the quality there of. Everything needs to be weighed up if you read a book on a subject you get one opinion but read 50 you become somewhat of an expert the web is no diffent. Hit google read the first link and you could be far away from the right answer. USE YOUR BRAIN as well as the computer
  • RE: The Future of the Web

    I can't imagine doing library research without having a pile of books open on the table in front of me. Current search engines can't match that convenience; Freebase and Parallax actually improve upon it by making not only multiple "books" but unlimited "pages" within them simultaneously available.
  • RE: The Future of the Web

    I went to the Freebase Parallax site and played with it for a few minutes. The concerns about content accuracy are valid and will need to be addressed, however I did discover one useful aspect of it. It gave me insights into perspectives and semantic connections that I hadn't thought to investigate and I'm wondering if this might not be its most useful feature?
  • RE: The Future of the Web


    Great find. Thanks for posting this. I certainly agree with the statement that searching using traditional methods and sites is not optimal. It can get the job done, but it can be tedious and inefficient.

    While not nearly as sophisticated as this example, we have created a method for searching our application that is similar. Our semantic application (uses Freebase as a tag source) automatically tags content with tags. Then, users utilize tag browsing to find what they want. Much like this video, when you click on a tag, we show all tags associated with the tag clicked. Then, you can keep going. This video has some great ideas. Thanks again.

  • Freebase/Parallax increases analytical skills

    I think Parallax deceases the cost of exploring information, by it's many-to-many associations. Ultimately it will increase learning by exploring. Great tools!!!
  • RE: The Future of the Web

    A great advance in web searches for inter-related data. Looking forward to full functionality and release to the public.
  • RE: The Future of the Web

    Great example. Really lucid explanation of why semantic tech will be of huge impact. Likewise John Davies from BT in his role as chairman of forthcoming European Semantic Technology Conference has been discussing other Enterprise 2.0 applications emerging in Europe. Check out John Miller's blog
  • Sets - Tuples - RDBMS at work

    Great invention - thank you.
    Very good presentation that almost anyone can understand.
    Good examples of many to a few and back out to a larger set.
    The ability to create graphs is great. A picture is worth a thousand words, two thousand if the audiance is not to bright. ;-)

    My fear - building bad conclusions on the web which become the basis of other conclusions.
    Where is the garbage collection?
    People know what is right. They also know what is wrong or counterintuitive.
    An encyclopedia of misinformation - ahh urban legend and myth busters!

  • All info should be "gradeable."

    This give some sense of whether to evaluate further. Much like Amazon reviews.
  • Statistics Pr0n! They've built a lot of good tools there..

    Just watched the video, I'm impressed. Aspects of this are present
    in several of my future projects and I can think of many
    applications besides schooling and research where this would
    save a ton of time.

    Good news, good work.
  • RE: The Future of the Web

    The future of Web semantics is about the people's Web, not a Corporate developing Web. If you can understand the comment, you can understand the future and semantics.