Monday, May 29, 2006

Tech: Database the world with XML (Semantic web, part 2)

(part 1 was Semantic web, super web.)

I have a vision: I want to see the whole digital world databased.

Why? Databases are wonderfully associative tools. We can make connections, sort, and list. We can gain new insights into our information with rapid querying and analysis tools (business intelligence tools in particular).

Now, databases are rather inefficient for storing information, as a colleague pointed out to me. But once upon a time, relational databases were said to be impractical in the real world for much the same reason. Then precipitous drops in CPU and storage costs brought the theoretical into the real world, to the point where you’d be hard-pressed to find a database not predicated on the relationship model.

My vision will prevail (although I’m in for a bit of a wait). The web will become a virtual database, thanks to semantic web and XML technology. We will see a gradual takeup of the concept, through the markup of new and existing pages in XML, which will define the web page semantically, giving machine-readable meaning to the information on the page. Search engines will need to be more powerful to process that meaning, to integrate an open set of disparate pages. This is the power of the semantic web paradigm, this is how true integration will happen.

Finally, the whole of human knowledge will be integrated, and we’ll all be experts on everything… whoops, getting ahead of myself here. (We only think we’re experts.)
Seriously, there’s no reason we won’t go down this path. Of course, beyond a certain point much of this information will remain specific and privatised, sensitive to organisations or individuals. Yet what remains in the public domain – even now – is powerful. We just need the tools in place to boost the value of this chaotic, cluttered web.

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