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This article was published on April 3, 2008

Nova Spivack: “The Semantic Web as an open and less evil web”

Nova Spivack: “The Semantic Web as an open and less evil web”
Anne Helmond
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Anne Helmond

Anne is a New Media PhD Candidate and Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. She is an analyst-designer in the newly found Digital Methods Anne is a New Media PhD Candidate and Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. She is an analyst-designer in the newly found Digital Methods Initiative of the University of Amsterdam. Anne is also a freelance photographer for various Dutch organizations and media.

Nova Spivack is a web visionary, entrepreneur and the founder of semantic web application Twine. It is a service that aims to “tie it all together” in order to make sense of the web. The semantic web is a popular buzz word used for giving meaning to the web. Moderator Erick Schonfeld is not alone in wishing there was a better word for making the web meaningful for computers than semantic web, or web 3.0.

Nova Spivack presents the audience with two options: an in depth understanding of the semantic web and/or a Twine tutorial. The general preference is a general overview of what the semantic web is and why it is useful.


The social graph concerns itself with about connecting people while the semantic web is about connecting things. Not just connecting things but connecting everything. This makes the social graph just a small piece of the semantic web which revolves around connecting more kinds of things together. The connections will improve search and advertising.

After the Web 2.0 hype we are currently entering the Web 3.0 decade where the connections between people and information are evolving. This is not simply about coining a new number but it is a fundamental upgrade to the infrastructure of the web with a focus on the backend. In the fourth phase of the web we have smarter interfaces that provide smarter user experience based on a richer dataset.

Semantic search not only understands the meaning of items but also the connections between them. Semantic search aims to get past the barrier of keyword search which has reached its current limit. Because it is not getting any better we need to move on to semantic technologies.

The semantic web is not so much about “semantics” as it is set of open standards defined at W3C. The semantic web approach builds on open standard meta data which is in line with previous presentations that supported the open data approach. The idea is that everyone profits from everyone’s metadata. The semantic web is a compromise in making the data smarter and the software smarter. It is the best of both worlds.

Spivack presents the semantic web as a higher resolution web because every piece of data contains more information. Not only are there links between data, the type of link is also defined, giving more meaning to the link. The web is a database.

The general dream of the semantic web is to have all human knowledge in a machine-readable fashion. The semantic web does not try to replace humans but have machines do the “dumb” things we spend too much of our time on. We should help the machines do a better job with the stupid things so we can use our time for intelligent things. In order to do so we need to move the “intelligence out of applications, into the data” by framing the semantic web as an open database layer for the web. This also provides us with a better name for the semantic web: the data web.

The growth of the semantic web lies in the current implementation and in the future. Twine is a starting point in the mainstream understanding and adoption of the semantic web. Spivack’s guess is that the semantic web will become mainstream around 2010 and with implementations by major companies such as Google and Microsoft (Adobe and Yahoo already use several semantic web standards.)

The key point lies in making data open and the semantic web provides open standards. This is where the semantic web meets current initiatives such as which will be presenting tomorrow. it isn’t easy a startup contribute to a semantic web because the tools are not there yet but there are already some open standards such as FOAF (friend of a friend) and an upcoming Twine API will also make it easier. Nova Spivack continues the general trend of the open standards promotion here at the Next Web.

Schonfeld: Will the semantic web enable new business models?
Spivack: The semantic web does not introduce new business models but it will make current models better. The same opportunities will exist but they will be more optimized and more open and provide better value for users. On top of that it will open up the playfield for new players in each of the categories such as search and advertising.

Schonfeld: Iis there anything inherently in the semantic web to open up standards?
Spivack: The semantic web makes your data more portable and more able to leave a service and will focus more on value creation. Open standards are the foundation of a less evil web.

UPDATE: Enjoy Nova Spivack‘s slides on Making Sense of the Semantic Web: