Liberté, égalité, interneté!
Is he really going to start an article about a tremendously important and disrupting technology with a mildly funny wordplay?
Yes, absolutely. This article will dive into personal web security, data pods, the decentralization of the internet, and sushi.
On that note: Is there a better way to honor the groundbreaking invention of the World Wide Web than with bad puns? I don’t think so.
Let’s start at the beginning. Hold on to your office chair or smartphone, it’s going to get spicy.
What is the Semantic Web?
Semantic Web is also called Web 3.0. The term was coined by Tim Berners-Lee, the infamous inventor of the World Wide Web. Semantics represent the meaning and relationships between words, phrases, or texts.
When the internet first came up, it was not designed to teach computers what the information they display really means. This changes with Berners-Lee’s vision of the Semantic web.
It is a technology that structures data, stored on the World Wide Web, to make it available and usable by programs and software. This can be achieved through a system of graph-based metadata.
Meta-what? Metadata. Data, that describes other data. Datangling? (Sorry, this was the last one, I promise.)
Metadata contains crucial information like descriptions of content as well as keywords and tags, making them machine-readable. This already plays a huge role in search engine optimization. Take schema.org as an example.
In this case, metadata is stored in the Resource Description Framework (RDF). Texts can be dissected into subject, predicate, and object to build a network of relationships between terms.
How can the Semantic web change our experience on the internet?
We as humans naturally understand the meaning behind what is said. Most of the time, anyway. A computer does not.
With the Semantic Web, the meaning behind data can be understood by machines, too.
If computers recognize what is on a web page, they can learn what users are interested in and help to get to relevant information actively and not just passively.
The way search engines like Google work today is only a small glimpse of what is theoretically possible.
Imagine this: You are planning a nice evening with your significant other. Your partner wants to watch a thriller and you are dying for some delicious sushi.
You request exactly that in your search engine and get a personalized answer depending on your location, your nearest movie theater, and a recommended Japanese restaurant based on social media reviews. The menu of the restaurant could even be displayed through 3D graphics.
But not only search engines could benefit from the Semantic Web.
Knowledge graphs, machine learning, and Artificial Intelligence could literally save lives.
The healthcare sector could benefit immensely by providing warning signs for diseases. Using patient data, diseases could be treated preventatively before they even appeared.
How Tim Berners Lee could save our privacy
Tim Berners Lee already shaped the future of our planet by inventing the internet, the first web browser, and HTML while working at CERN. His vision of the internet featured empowerment of users and decentralization. A place, where information is free and accessible for everyone.
For some time, the WWW was this place. Nowadays? Not so much.
Tech giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft hold monopolies and control, buy and sell personal data. The reason those companies are so powerful comes down to the network effect. Data is incredibly valuable if it comes in huge quantities.
A social platform like Facebook is the biggest player in the field and therefore gains more and more users because literally everyone and their grandma is on there.
The more users, the more data, the more possibilities to produce better services. It’s a vicious circle. This builds monopolies and centralization.
The original vision of the internet is being led to absurdity by algorithms that generate echo chambers and disconnecting people.
If we see Tim Berners Lee as the father of the internet, the web today would be a teenage boy in his puberty. Technically smart and good at heart, but easy to manipulate and going in the wrong direction.
What can be done against it?
Berners Lee is currently working on an open-source project called Solid to bring back data sovereignty to the users. Solid (Social Linked Data) wants to restore our privacy with “pods”, personal online data stores.
Note: Data pods are NOT vehicles featured in Star Wars. Those are podracers, young Padawan. (Oops, I did it again and I am not even sorry.)
Pods are basically personal data safes. Solid acts like a bank where the pods are stored. They are being owned and controlled by the user rather than transferred to digital platforms.
A key feature is the self-determination of personal data we allow to be collected, analyzed, stored, owned, and used.
Companies can then request access to those pods, which can be accepted or denied. Data stored in pods cannot be extracted or sold — the user is always in control.
You might think: “This all sounds great, when can we use it? Revolution NOW!”
Well, it’s not that easy. Web 3.0, AI, and project Solid still are in their infancy. Additionally, tech giants won’t just give up their monopolies and power. There are still a lot of obstacles to overcome.
Tim Berners Lee sees three main challenges for the web:
- taking back control of our personal data
- preventing the spread of misinformation
- realization of transparency for political ads
Will the man that brought us the World Wide Web (and therefore also Wikipedia, social media, and the poo-face emoji) do it again and revolutionize his own work for a truly decentralized internet? We don’t know yet, but a fight for a better tomorrow will always be worth it.
More about the Semantic Web, Tim Berners Lee, and Solid: