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Berners-Lee seeks killer app for Semantic Web

By Johan Bostrom
May 19, 2005 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - The Semantic Web could be the key to unlocking scientific data that's sequestered by disparate applications' formats and organizational limitations, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee said Tuesday.

The Semantic Web "will give scientists and other users unexpected help and serendipitous added value from others' data," Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), said at the Fourth Annual Bio-IT World Conference and Expo in Boston. The Semantic Web seeks to make it easier for data on the Web to be shared and reused by people and applications.

The Semantic Web is based on the W3C's Resource Description Framework, which uses XML to integrate applications. Documents and information in databases on the Semantic Web have to be published in a machine-processable form, creating a kind of global database.

Life scientists in particular could find the Semantic Web a useful tool and in so doing "provide leadership to lots of other fields" in implementing this next-generation Web technology, Berners-Lee said. "At the moment, I see a huge amount of energy from people in life sciences getting excited by the Semantic Web and what it can do to solve the big-idea problems."

Berners-Lee, who invented key components of the World Wide Web such as HTTP and HTML in the late 1980s, has long envisioned an extension of the organic, unstructured Web. The W3C launched the first related projects in the late 1990s, adding metadata to Web pages.

Berners-Lee hopes that life sciences will drive adoption of the Semantic Web, just as high-energy physics drove the early World Wide Web.

"Maybe we will meet a critical mass in a certain area. The Web, for example, took off in high-energy physics. When we got six high-energy physics Web sites, then it got interesting for physicists to be onboard," he said. "Similarly, if we could get critical mass in life sciences, if we get a half a dozen or a dozen set of ontologies, the core ones for drug discovery out there, then suddenly the Semantic Web within life sciences would have a critical mass. It'll snowball much more rapidly and it will be copied. Other areas will realize, Oh it's worth investing in this."

Life sciences are particularly suitable for pioneering the Semantic Web, Berners-Lee said. For example, within drug discovery, many databases and information systems used by drug researchers are already in, or are ready to be transformed to, machine-readable formats.

Examples include the Biological Pathways Exchange, which is developing a standard data-exchange format for metabolic, signaling, genetic regulatory and genetic pathway information; and the Universal Protein Resource, or Uniprot,

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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