Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Google could be superseded, says web inventor



The next generation of web technology is likely to be far more powerful than the current crop, Tim Berners-Lee said

Google may eventually be displaced as the pre-eminent brand on the internet by a company that harnesses the power of next-generation web technology, the inventor of the World Wide Web has said.

The search giant had developed an extremely effective way of searching for pages on the internet, Tim Berners-Lee said, but that ability paled in comparison to what could be achieved on the "web of the future", which he said would allow any piece of information — such as a photo or a bank statement — to be linked to any other.

Mr Berners-Lee said that in the same way, the "current craze" for social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace would eventually be superseded by networks that connected all types of things — not just people — thanks to a ground-breaking technology known as the "semantic web".

The semantic web is the term used by the computer and internet industry to describe the next phase of the web's development, and essentially involves building web-based connectivity into any piece of data — not just a web page — so that it can "communicate" with other information.

Whereas the existing web is a collection of pages with links between them that Google and other search engines help the user to navigate, the "semantic web" will enable direct connectivity between much more low-level pieces of information — a written street address and a map, for instance — which in turn will give rise to new services.

"Using the semantic web, you can build applications that are much more powerful than anything on the regular web," Mr Berners-Lee said. "Imagine if two completely separate things — your bank statements and your calendar — spoke the same language and could share information with one another. You could drag one on top of the other and a whole bunch of dots would appear showing you when you spent your money.

"If you still weren't sure of where you were when you made a particular transaction, you could then drag your photo album on top of the calendar, and be reminded that you used your credit card at the same time you were taking pictures of your kids at a theme park. So you wouldd know not to claim it as a tax deduction.

"It's about creating a seamless web of all the data in your life."

One example frequently given is of typing a street address which, if it had "semantic data" built into it, would link directly to a map showing its location, dispensing with the need to go to a site like Google `maps, type in the address, get the link and paste it into a document or e-mail.

The challenge, experts say, is in finding a way to represent all data so that when it is connected to the web, links to other relevant information can be recognised and established — a bit like the process known as "tagging". One expected application is in the pharmaceutical industry, where previously unconnected pieces of research into a drug or disease, say, could be brought together and assimilated.

Mr Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web in 1989 while a fellow at CERN, the European Organsation for Nuclear Research in Switzerland, would not be drawn on the type of application that the "Google of the future" would develop, but said it would likely be a type of "mega-mash-up", where information is taken from one place and made useful in another context using the web.

Existing "mash-ups", such as progams that plotted the location of every Starbucks in a city using Google maps, were a start, he said in an interview with Times Online, but they were limited because a separate application had to be built each time a new service was imagined.

"In the semantic web, it's like every piece of data is given a longitude and latitute on a map, and anyone can 'mash' them together and use them for different things."

Mr Berners-Lee, who is now a director of the Web Science Research Initiative, a collaborative project between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Southampton, sought to put into context the rapid growth of social networking sites in recent years, saying that once the semantic web was rolled out they would be thought of as one of many types of network available.

"At the moment, people are very excited about all these connections being made between people — for obvious reasons, because people are important — but I think after a while people will realise that there are many other things you can connect to via the web."

He also spoke about what he described as one of the key challenges of the web today — confronting the security risks associated with large databases of information that were attractive to criminals and identity fraudsters.

"There are definitely better ways of managing that threat. I think we're soon going to see a new tipping point where different types of crimes become possible and lucrative, and it's something we constantly have to be aware of.

"One option is to build systems which more effectively track what information you've used to perform a particular task, and make sure people aren't using their authority to do things that they shouldn't be doing."

By:Jonathan Richards


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