Semantic web

The semantic web is a kind of a semantic network. A semantic web contains typed links between documents or parts of documents. Typed links contain information about the nature of a given link, such as the information that the document supports the conclusion of the article pointing to it, that it contradicts the article pointing to it, that it is an older version of the document, that it serves to define the word next to the link, that it is an index to other documents of the same type, or some other relationship.


"The Semantic Web is an extension of the current web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation." (Berners-Lee; Hendler & Lassila, 2001)



Veltman (2004) is critical concerning the semantic web's use in cultural domains. He find that it deals with meaning in a very restricted sense and offers a static solution to a world where new dynamic models are needed. An historical excursus considers five domains, which are not considered by the semantic web today: 1) the role of worldviews in classifying facts to explain a gradual shift from ontology through taxonomy and systematics to multiple ontologies; 2) developments in definitions and meaning; 3) distinctions between words and concepts (terminology); 4) new classes of relations; and 5) dynamic knowledge. This historical excursus reveals also that cultural and historical dimensions of cultural diversity are central to classification of biological diversity and knowledge organization.


A more positive evaluation of the semantic web is given by Neumann et al. (2004) about its application in the life sciences.


Any specific semantic system has to operate on the basis of given meanings and specifications. Such meanings and specifications may be adequate to have machines doing certain tasks. However it is always the question who should decide how meanings should be determined and thus what kinds of tasks should be facilitated and what  interests should be fulfilled. A semantic web cannot be just a neutral tool but must rely on a system of meanings which are embedded in particular world views and interests. This is important to consider in research on any semantic tool, including the semantic web.


Wikipedia (September, 2006) also offers a criticism of the ideas behind the semantic web.





Antoniou, G. & van Harmelen, F. (2004) A semantic web primer. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1-149.


Berners-Lee, T., Hendler, J. & Lassila, O. (2001) The Semantic Web. Scientific American 284(3), 34. Available at:



Bada, M., Stevens, R., Goble, C., Gil, Y., Ashburner, M., Blake, J. A., Cherry, J. M., Harris, M. & Lewis, S. (2004). A short study on the success of the Gene Ontology. Journal of web semantics 1(2), 235-240. Available at:


Brooks, T. A.  (2002). The Semantic Web, universalist ambition and some lessons from librarianship. Information Research, 7(4). Available at


Legg, C. (2007). Ontologies on the semantic web. Annual review of Information Science and Technology. 41, 407-451.


Neumann, E. K.; Miller, E. & Wilbanks, J. (2004). What the semantic web could do for the life sciences. DDT: BIOSILICO, 2( 6), 228-236.


Sheth, A.; Ramakrishnan, C. & Thomas, C. (2005). Semantics for the Semantic Web: The Implicit, the Formal and the Powerful. The International Journal on Semantic Web  & Information Systems, 1(1), 1-18.

Uschold, Michael (2003). Where are the Semantics in the Semantic Web? AI Magazine,  24(3), 25-36. Retrieved 2008-02-29 from:

Veltman, K. H. (2004). Towards a semantic web for culture. Journal of Digital Information, 4(4), Article No. 255, 2004-03-15. Available at:


Warner, J. (2002) Forms of labour in information systems.  Information Research 7(4), Available at:


Wikipedia. The free encyclopedia. (September, 2006). Semantic Web.



See also: Semantics




Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 29-02-2008