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T
im Berners-Lee and his colleagues at W3C
have recognised that the real benefits of the
web-based information revolution will come
from enabling the interoperability of content.The
current generation of web delivery is, they have
argued, designed for human users who struggle to
make effective use of the billions of pages of infor-
mation currently accessible.When we search for
something at the moment, we sometimes discover
suitable candidate information but more often than
not this is far from being the case. More than this,
the entire process of searching, discovery, and use is
designed to be driven by humans.When we discover
one piece of the puzzle we need manually to position
that information so that it can help us to search out
the next piece of the puzzle.We find that Darmstadt
is near Frankfurt.Then we find that there are flights
from Glasgow to Frankfurt, and there is a bus from
Frankfurt Airport to Darmstadt.Then I search for
timetables, make manual comparisons and decide
which times best meet my requirements. In the
Shangri-La that is the Semantic Web my `agent' would
recognise from its regular review of my diary that
I needed to be at a meeting in Darmstadt on the 21st
of January 2003 and it would search out the options,
DigiCULT 7
P
OSITION
P
APER
By Seamus Ross
Genesis The Creation: Division of Light and Darkness
analyse the timetables, identify the optimum travel
arrangements, book my non-smoking hotel accom-
modation, and order the taxi to take me to the
airport. (It might even check the weather forecasts
and warn me to bring particular types of clothing.)
Certainly, to make this happen there has to be a
fundamental shift in the way data, information, and
knowledge are represented on the web.
The proliferation of web-based resources makes
finding what you are looking for increasingly difficult.
According to Internet user studies, in 1996 50% of
Internet users reported spending time looking for
information without finding it, but by 2002 only
about 40% of users ended their `searching sessions'
unsuccessfully. At first glance we might conclude that
web discovery tools have improved and/or the
information searching skills of users have improved.
Over the past seven years the quantity of content has
mushroomed, the search tools have become more
efficient, developers approach the use of meta-tags
more effectively, and anecdotal evidence suggests that
the searching techniques of users have become more
sophisticated.We should continue to be surprised by
the high failure rate and wonder why it remains
proportionally so high as the numbers of users have
grown to nearly 600 million. In reality, there is just
too much content available. It is poorly described. It
is not interconnected. Search engines themselves are
blunt instruments. Most users of the web do not have
very mature searching strategies and rarely use even
the blunt instruments as effectively as they might. A
solution is to make more of the information capable
of discovery, interpretation, and reuse by automated
information processing tools themselves. However the
current ways content is represented on the web makes
it nearly impossible for machines to search the web
meaningfully and effectively even with the limi-
tations of their skills and tools humans are better at
searching the web than the most powerful of the
current generation of agents.The emergence of the
Semantic Web would solve this problem.
The web has made us realise the tremendous
potential of digital resources and made them widely
available. Content as presented on the web currently is