by Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, Janna Quitney Anderson, Elon University
May 5, 2010

Overview

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has worked along with many others in the internet community for more than a decade to achieve his next big dream: the semantic web. His vision is a web that allows 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.”1

Some 895 experts responded to the invitation of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center to predict the likely progress toward achieving the goals of the semantic web by the year 2020. Asked to think about the likelihood that Berners-Lee and his allies will realize their vision, often called Web 3.0, these technology experts and stakeholders were divided and often contentious.

Some 47% agreed with the statement:

“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.”

Some 41% agreed with the opposite statement, which posited:

“By 2020, the semantic web envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee and his allies will have been achieved to a significant degree and have clearly made a difference to average internet users.”

Experts generally agreed that progress will continue to be made in making the Web more useful and information retrieval and assessment more meaningful. They recognized the fact that there are already elements and programs of the semantic web in place that are helping people more easily navigate their lives. While many survey participants noted that current and emerging technologies are being leveraged toward positive Web evolution in regard to linking data, there was no consensus on the technical mechanisms and human actions that might lead to the next wave of improvements — nor how extensive the changes might be.

Many think Berners-Lee’s vision will take much longer to unfold than the 2020 timeline posited by the question. Critics noted that human uses of language are often illogical, playfully misleading, false or nefarious, thus human semantics can never be made comprehensible to machines. Some 12% of those who responded to the survey did not venture a guess about the future of the semantic Web — itself a sign that there is still a good deal of uncertainty and confusion about the topic even among those who are quite connected to the tech world.

Read the full report at pewinternet.org.