Skip main navigation

The future of knowledge online: the semantic web

In this article, Professor Les Carr provides a succinct introduction to the semantic web: the future of knowledge online.
© University of Southampton

The Semantic Web is Tim Berners-Lee’s name for the version of the Web that links together ideas, concepts and facts instead of documents and pages.

It’s sometimes called Web 3.0, because it is thought of as a new kind of Web, in the same way that Web 2.0 was a move to user-contributed content and social networks.

The vision of the Semantic Web is that computers would be able to understand the things that are linked together on the Web, rather than needing human eyeballs to interpret them.

Facts about me as a person, my diary, choices of travel arrangements, a business destination and accommodation availability will all be accessible for my computer to “surf” and “understand”, instead of my computer presenting me with a sequence of web pages that I have to read and deal with.

Goodbye online travel brochure, hello personal assistant.

This vision is explained in an article that Tim Berners-Lee wrote for Scientific American magazine in 2001 (see below). Since there is not an Open Access version of this paper, we have summarised it.

Read the summary (available in PDF format) or the article, and think about this vision.

Note: when we originally devised this course, you could access the original article for free but since the end of 2015 you can still access the original article via Scientific American but you will need to pay a small fee. We have also added a new link to an additional article ‘The Semantic Web Revisited’’, written by Nigel Shadbolt, Wendy Hall and Tim Berners-Lee 5 years after the original article.

What sounds familiar? How much of it has been realised so far?
What genuine benefits would it offer to society?
Can you see disadvantages and problems that this new form of Web would bring?
© University of Southampton
This article is from the free online

Web Science: How the Web Is Changing the World

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education