What is the 'semantic web'?

I keep seeing people talk about the ‘semantic web’ and have no idea what it’s all about. So, in an effort to try and understand it, I thought I’d catalogue my journey in the hope that I might understand it by the time I finish.

Tim Berners-Lee (inventor/creator of the WWW)¬†classifies the semantic web as “a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines” (source: Altova). That doesn’t really help me out though.

I first heard about the semantic web via a few entries on Twitter, and then a newsletter from the eLearning Magazine popped in to my inbox all about “The Semantic Web and E-learning“. This article is slightly better in its explanation, saying that;

“the Semantic Web is a collection of standards, data structures, and software” and that “semantic technologies seek to define the framework and method of communication between systems.”

That’s slightly better … it’s all about standardisation.

The difficulty I have found in trying to explain the semantic web is that it is too big for one simple explanation (if there is one way to explain it). Infomesh helped me to understand it a little better with their introductory article, where they say;

“… just think of information about local sports events, weather information, plane times, Major League Baseball statistics, and television guides… all of this information is presented by numerous (web) sites, but all in HTML.”

The semantic web will bring the content (not background code, but purely the content/text/information) on the page(s) to a “repurposable form” that can be used and re-used across all platforms, all locations, etc … kind of like one big database that we can all dip into (or contribute to) for whatever re-usable content we need. I think.

Hell, it’ll take a whole lot of reading to fully grasp what it is and where it is going, so if you have information or links that will help me on my way, please let me know in the comment box below.