What Is the Semantic Web? (Includes Examples)

Robert MacDonald

Understanding the semantic web can be confusing, so we break it down to help guide you through its technologies, history, and importance to the future of the web.

Why is the semantic web important? The semantic web is important because it provides a structure for web content to facilitate machine-human interaction and decentralized development.

Web 1.0 and the Static Web

While a colloquial (rather than technical) name, Web 1.0 refers to the collection of basic internet technologies that served as the web’s foundation at the start of the internet. 

Web 1.0 Technologies

Some of the primary technologies that supported Web 1.0 are as follows:

  • Uniform Resource Locators : We all know URLs, also known as internet addresses, that uniquely identify content and resources on network servers using a hierarchical domain structure to point to particular files. 

The basic structure of a URL is an identifier of the protocol used to transmit the requested information (HTTP or HTTPS). This domain name includes a domain type (.com, .gov, etc.), an optional port number, the path to the desired file, and optional parameters.

  • Hyperlinks: The underlying decentralized nature of web pages generally calls for a form of connectivity between the pages and that mechanism is the hyperlink. Website creators can mark text or images with markup that anchor them to a URL so that they are taken directly to that address when the user clicks it. 

It’s hard to overstate the importance of hyperlinks to the web. They are what connect pages and sites and create the fabric by which natural navigation can take place. 

  • HTML: HyperText Markup Language is the metadata used to format content on the web for presentation in a web browser. Everything from font, colors, arrangements, links, images, and structure are laid out in HTML (and, following that, CSS).

The original infrastructure of the web is, in fact, decentralized. IP routing and URLs create a metaphorical web of content users can access. However, the centralizing force of centralized servers and service providers also gives the web context and meaning, where well-known locations and trustworthy sources of content can draw in users. 

Web 2.0, Web 3.0, and the Semantic Web

One challenge of the old web is that it is static and decontextualized. As far as internet protocols are concerned, data is simply data, and all that matters is how it fits into the network model. 

This reality limits the flexibility and responsiveness of the web because it requires human users to ascribe meaning to any piece of data manually. 

The next evolution of the web, according to Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium), is a web that allows machines to understand what data means rather than just what it is, and thus work better for and with human users. He dubbed this evolution “the semantic web.”

The more technical underpinnings of the semantic web, as conceived by Berners-Lee, include the following: 

The Semantic Web

Metadata is, per its name, data about data. HTML is a good example of metadata—through the use of clearly defined tags, the writer of HTML can signal to a web browser how to format content. That formatting information isn’t visible to the reader, but it fundamentally shapes the user experience. 

In terms of semantics and meaning, metadata can provide a structure to data so that it is meaningful to machines. Much like HTML, metadata languages signal to programs that certain pieces of content fall into certain patterns, categories, and structures. 

Some of the more prevalent forms of metadata languages include the following:

  • eXtensible Markup Language: XML is much like HTML, but instead of providing formatting, it provides semantic information. For example, if you structure an eBook in chapters, chapter sections, and paragraphs, you can express those sections into XML so that an application can structure or transform them. 
  • Yet Another Markup Language: Similar to XML, YAML uses section declarations to separate sections of data, to provide a metadata document that is more readable for humans as compared to XML. 
  • JavaScript Object Notation Language: Superficially, JSON resembles the nested tagging structure of XML, but it is specifically useful for processing web data objects into JavaScript objects for web programming. 

Organization and Web Ontology

If metadata languages express structure, then ontology languages define that structure for machine consumption. For example, an ontology language can serve as the underlying structure of an eBook or define how CMS systems format URLs by drawing data from a piece of content as it is created. If metadata languages are, in fact, languages, then ontologies are the vocabulary.

Some of the common ontology specifications are as follows:

  • Resource Description Framework: RDF uses the concept of “triples” to create a flexible data model that can be used by the languages and applications that build on it. These triples are like that of a simple vocabulary: (Subject →Verb→Object). A subject performs or is connected to an object by a verb. An example of this might be “Apple is Fruit,” where every piece of data defined as an apple is, through the ontology, assumed to be a fruit.

This might seem incredibly simple—but remember that machines aren’t as intelligent as we often think. They need to be told things. So, with an ontology that defines references of “apple” data objects as “fruit,” the developer can deploy and transform apple objects based on their fruit-ness.

  • Web Ontology Language: OWL is a more expansive, and in some cases more restrictive, extension of RDF that supports more complex relationships and operations, making it easier to create complex ontologies. If RDF is a vocabulary, OWL is a more flexible dictionary with more rules for using those expanded terms. 

Note that metadata languages and ontologies aren’t opposed. Languages like XML will express ontological definitions for higher-level applications, making creating and modifying user-level applications easier. 

While having central vocabularies seems restricting, the purpose of creating these semantics is to improve development and decentralization. With a common standard to build on, developers can create a network of related but independent systems that integrate without requiring a central organization to provide resources for planning.

Join Web 3.0 Functionality and the Semantic Web with 1Kosmos

The semantic web isn’t just about metatextual data. It’s about robust and decentralized systems that can securely store and serve information from multiple sources meaningfully so that machines and people can work together better. 

This is especially useful in authentication and identity management. The move away from centralized servers is a question of both security and ownership. Central servers are honeypots that draw in hackers, and decentralized systems can replace them without sacrificing speed or reliability. Perhaps more importantly, people want more control over their data, and the semantic web in authentication is a start towards that goal.

With 1Kosmos, you can support Web 3.0 and the semantic web with the following features:

  • SIM Binding: The BlockID application uses SMS verification, identity proofing, and SIM card authentication to create solid, robust, and secure device authentication from any employee’s phone. 
  • Identity-Based Authentication: We push biometrics and authentication into a new “who you are” paradigm. BlockID uses biometrics to identify individuals, not devices, through credential triangulation and identity verification.
  • Cloud-Native Architecture: Flexible and scalable cloud architecture makes it simple to build applications using our standard API and SDK.
  • Identity Proofing: BlockID verifies identity anywhere, anytime and on any device with over 99% accuracy.
  • Privacy by Design: Embedding privacy into the design of our ecosystem is a core principle of 1Kosmos. We protect personally identifiable information in a distributed identity architecture and the encrypted data is only accessible by the user. 
  • Private and Permissioned Blockchain: 1Kosmos protects personally identifiable information in a private and permissioned blockchain and encrypts digital identities and is only accessible by the user. The distributed properties ensure that there are no databases to breach or honeypots for hackers to target. 
  • Interoperability: BlockID can readily integrate with existing infrastructure through its 50+ out of the box integrations or via API/SDK. 

Sign up for the 1Kosmos newsletter to learn more about our products and services. Also, see Why a Secure Web 3.0 Starts with Decentralized Identity and Passwordless Access.

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Meet the Author

Robert MacDonald

Vice President of Product Marketing

Robert is the Vice President of Product Marketing at 1Kosmos. He is a highly influential senior global marketer with more than 15 years of marketing experience in B2B and B2C software in the biometric authentication space. Prior to 1Kosmos, Rob managed product strategy and vision for the Identity and Access Management portfolio at Micro Focus, leading a team of product marketers to drive sales and support the channel. Earlier in his career he set the foundation for content planning, sales enablement and GTM activities for ForgeRock. He has also held senior marketing positions at Entrust, Dell, Quest and Corel Corporation.