I've been puzzled for some time as to what is meant by the "semantic web" phrase and what does it mean in practice and research. I've come across the following article The Semantic Web, today that appears to be describing the semantic web concept(s) in a clear and presentable way.
The article makes the following distinction:
"The key point of the semantic web is the conversion of the current structure of the web as a data storage (interpretable only by human beings, that are able to put the data into context) into a structure of information storage."
I can understand the above intention and the attempt to make a distinction between data and information. However, the distinction between data and information that we make in our heads and understanding does not mean much to computer software.
Further, the article states:
"The Semantic Web is based on two fundamental concepts: 1) The description of the meaning of the content in the Web, and 2) The automatic manipulation of these meanings."
As far as 1) is concerned, the description itself is just another data (or information), i.e. metadata (or metainformation). In any case, the proper software tools have to be build to 'understand' the metadata/metainformation.
As far as 2) is concerned and the manipulation of meanings, this is a bit skeptical because to the machines, as I've tried to explain elsewhere here and here, those descriptions are just data it can manipulate and not meanings.
No, I don't believe that metadata and metainformation will not be able to provide a level of quality in the process of information seeking and access to information, I'm just a bit skeptical about the hype and high level of optimism that the semantic web will deliver us from the chaos of the web.
An interesting parallel are the natural languages. Each language is composed of words and phrases that have certain meaning(s) and/or concepts attached to them. To be able to navigate within the conceptual space of the language (i.e. understand the language) one needs to learn what each of the words represents: because each word or phrase is a metadata/metainformation for the actual concept in the particular language. So, it is good to be optimistic that eventually we'll come around to be able to represent the vast and chaotic multitude of information on the web with a set of metadata/metainformation and ontologies that all software will 'understand'.
Well... Esperanto hasn't yet become the world language it was meant to be... And it does not seem that it will became anytime soon... And even if it does, there still will be multiple meanings for various phrases...