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El.pub Analytic No. 6 The semantic web - will it work?

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Contents: The problem | Hypertext, SGML and search engines | Mixing tagging and linking | Navigating islands of information | Problem summary | The semantic web: what is it? | what will it do? | what do they say about it? | will it work? | Conclusions


Hypertext, SGML and search engines

Taking a different look back we might consider how the computer processing of text information has evolved. In the 70s people were trying to find ways to improve documentation systems (IBM for example were using computers internally to create rapidly changing documentation of their hardware and software products). It had already become evident that processing natural language was not the easy task that some had initially thought. To overcome this problem the idea of adding information into a text document in a form that could be recognised by a computer programme was devised. [This had not been a problem with numeric data as from the first, the data had been specifically coded to be readable by programmes. The history of database development is simply how the storage / retrieval of numeric data has evolved.]

The method chosen was to create tags in the text with characters that were not often used (at least in English) such as < and >. So that one could put IBM instead of IBM, and the computer could look for the <> and </> combinations and process the text in between. This tagging was initially standardised in the form of SGML and later HTML and XML.

The original idea was to use the tagging to aid computer typesetting by using the tags to separate content types such as chapter headings, paragraphs, diagrams, etc. which could be printed in different positions and typefaces, and to check the consistency of the document structure. However the introduction of the technology coincided with the desktop revolution and was dragooned into use to help with all sorts of complex text processing. Note that word processors were written by a different group of experts and didn't generally use tagging in their internal formats.

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