Is the future of sharing the Semantic Web?
Sharing takes the next steps towards a more complete understanding of the data
Current information sharing is based mostly on using so-called Web 1.0 search tools and Web 2.0 tools such as social media to collect and display data and information on the Web and make it easier for people to access. The next generation of Web technologies — collectively called the Semantic Web — will move sharing into the era of Web 3.0.
Semantic Web technologies are already used in government sites such as Data.gov and Recovery.gov, which are part of the Obama administration’s push for open government. Now whole organizations such as the Defense Department are committing to the Semantic Web as a way to improve data discovery and information sharing throughout the military enterprise.
Unlike previous generations of Web tools, which rely on keyword searches of databases and metadata to extract and link data, the Semantic Web enables machines to talk to one another and link data and information through terms that more closely represent the meaning contained in the data.
Like a good analyst, the Semantic Web is constantly taking various data points and making associations between them to come to a new level of understanding of the material, though at a much faster rate and using much larger volumes of data than any human analyst can. Because it’s a standards-based approach, it also means that information can easily move between applications and enterprises, which greatly increases the ease of sharing.
The Defense Information Systems Agency, which provides IT services to DOD and the military services, wants to use that Semantic Web capability to provide better and more timely information to military decision-makers. In a request for information published in November 2011, DISA described the potential for using Semantic Web technology to build what it’s calling an Enterprise Information Web (EIW).
The information necessary for decision-making is now often included in multiple systems scattered throughout the military enterprise, DISA said in the RFI, and in order to get information, each organization has to receive data requests, interpret the question, and then query its databases to collect, combine and present the information.
However, the RFI states, military forces today work together more closely than ever on missions, and that joint approach increases the kinds of enterprise-level information that decision-makers need.
“In this context,” DISA’s RFI states, “the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff require current, accurate and timely information from authoritative data sources to make effective, informed decisions affecting the DOD.”
DISA said a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency technology called “Semantic Web” was used as a model-driven concept demonstration for the EIW and proved effective.
Semantic technologies have been slow to catch on broadly in government because they are not easy to manipulate and are disruptive. However, they have been suggested for other uses beyond sites such as Data.gov and Recovery.gov. An article in Government Computer News in March 2011, for example, said the National Information Exchange Model, which forms the technical backbone of the Information Sharing Environment, could also make use of semantic technology.
As other challenges — such as big data, for which the automated data gathering of semantic technology seems ideally suited — start to work their way onto the list of IT issues the government has to deal with, the attraction of the Semantic Web is only likely to grow.