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Oct. 17, 2005 | Since it was first established in 1994, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), headquartered at MIT’s Ray and Maria Strata Center, has been developing Web standards and guidelines to define the Web’s framework. Today, the W3C sees the Semantic Web as an extension of its original goal of Web interoperability.

Organizations large and small pay to become members of the W3C. U.S. companies with gross annual revenues greater than $200 million pay $63,500 for membership; those earning more than $50 million pay $25,400. All other companies, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies pay $6,350. By bringing together close to 400 members, the W3C works to recognize overlapping problems and develop universal solutions.

“This isn’t W3C inventing [the Semantic Web],” says Eric Miller, Semantic Web Activity Lead at W3C. “It’s all of our members that have this problem coming together and addressing it with common open solutions. Our hope is to push this into the very fabric of the Web and make it as ubiquitous as possible, to reduce the cost across all the communities that have this problem.”

As new partnerships, applications, research technologies, and management tools are implemented, each must also be integrated into the existing company infrastructure. It just makes sense to go with the most flexible strategy, Miller says. “What the physicists were to the original Web, the life science community is going to be to the Semantic Web,” Miller says.

“One of the things that I want to dispel is you’ve got to drop your relational database that you’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and money in, and look for a scalable RDF triple score from Oracle, IBM, or open-source” says Miller. “There are a lot of examples where you can wrap your relational database and expose it as RDF. Existing applications can keep going, but you’re wrapping that data and exposing it in a different way.”

While many of the W3C’s members express interest in the Semantic Web, the movement is clearly still in its infancy. Miller says that the slow start could be because CIOs and CTOs have heard this song before. “Anyone who says, ‘We’ve got the solution’ now is immediately dismissed,” Miller says. “But we’re not pushing a company. We’re working with many companies to find a common standard, a common open substrate which data might be stitched together.”

— Maureen McDonough

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