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Experts, Public Split on Web 3.0

Technology experts and the general public are both split on the likelihood of the semantic web, or 'web 3.0,' becoming a reality by 2020, according to a study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.

The semantic web is an internet concept that would allow software agents to carry out sophisticated tasks for users, making meaningful connections between bits of information so that "computers can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding, combining, and acting upon information on the web," according to its originator, internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Experts More Hopeful for Semantic Web

Participants in the recent "Future of the Internet" study were asked to agree or disagree with the statement that by 2020, the semantic web envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee will not be as fully effective as its creators hoped and average users will not have noticed much of a difference.

Among 371 technology experts, 38% agreed with the statement and 52% disagreed with it, saying by 2020, the semantic web envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee will have been achieved to a significant degree and have clearly made a difference to average users. Another 10% did not respond.

Among a larger pool of 895 internet-engaged members of the general public (including the 371 experts), there was less optimism for the semantic web becoming a reality in the next decade. Forty-one percent agreed with the statement and 47% disagreed with it. A slightly higher 12% did not respond.

Major Contrasting Themes Emerge

Some major (and contrasting) themes emerged in respondents' elaborations to their answers. Following is a brief review:

  • Too many complicated things have to fall into place for the semantic web to be fully realized. The idea is a noble one and gives the technology community something to shoot for. But there is too much variation among people and cultures and economic competitors to allow for such a grand endeavor to come to fruition.
  • Forget the skeptics. The semantic web will take shape and launch an “age of knowledge.” Early successes will build momentum.
  • Improvements are inevitable, but they will not unfold the way Tim Berners-Lee and his allies have sketched out. They will be grassroots-driven rather than standards-driven. Data mining, links, analysis of social exchanges will help drive the process of smartening the web without more formal semantic apps.
  • The timeline of this question is off. The semantic web is shaping up, but it will take longer than the 10 years the question cited.
  • The semantic web will not really take off until it finds its killer app - something we all find that we need.
  • The killer app will come when we can ask the internet questions - and that will make things much more efficient. Conversational search will be the key to opening users’ eyes to the potential for the semantic web.
  • Creating the semantic web is a difficult thing that will depend on machines that can straighten out the massive confusions and complications that humans create.
  • The track record of proponents of artificial intelligence is just not good enough to justify the hope that machines will learn to understand the human meaning of things.
  • Human tendencies, preferences, and habits will determine the extent of the success of the semantic web - and probably thwart full realization of the dream. If people take the time to create sites and databases using information standards, then major progress will be made. Yet plenty of factors could, and likely will, stand in the way.
  • Sure, there will be some resistance, but there are fairly strong incentives to cooperate, too.
  • There will be an upstairs-downstairs quality to adoption and use. Elite and specialized users will be able to take advantage of the semantic web in ways that everyday internet users likely will not. Business applications will have more stakeholders than consumer or social apps. Particular activities will be the norm, rather than activities that appear similar throughout the web.
  • The very essence of the idea of the semantic web continues to evolve, as does every aspect of the Internet; it is difficult to predict what will happen because the aspirations of its proponents are shifting to take account of new realities and current limitations.
  • There are some applications and activities online that show the promise of the semantic web, among them: TripIt, Xobni, TrueKnowledge, Wolfram|Alpha, Open Calais, Hakia.
  • Some point out that despite human differences, the promise of the semantic web gives people significant incentives to cooperate in building it. Some say there are no incentives.

About the Data: A total of 895 people, including 371 technology experts, participated in this study.

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