The Fractal Nature of the Semantic Web

Tim Berners-Lee, Lalana Kagal

Abstract


In the past, many knowledge representation systems failed because they were too monolithic and didn’t scale well, whereas other systems failed to have an impact because they were small and isolated. Along with this trade-off in size, there is also a constant tension between the cost involved in building a larger community that can interoperate through common terms and the cost of the lack of interoperability. The semantic web offers a good compromise between these approaches as it achieves wide-scale communication and interoperability using finite effort and cost. The semantic web is a set of standards for knowledge representation and exchange that is aimed at providing interoperability across applications and organizations. We believe that the gathering success of this technology is not derived from the particular choice of syntax or of logic. Its main contribution is in recognizing and supporting the fractal patterns of scalable web systems. These systems will be composed of many overlapping communities of all sizes, ranging from one individual to the entire population that have internal (but not global) consistency. The information in these systems, including documents and messages, will contain some terms that are understood and accepted globally, some that are understood within certain communities, and some that are understood locally within the system. The amount of interoperability between interacting agents (software or human) will depend on how many communities they have in common and how many ontologies (groups of consistent and related terms) they share. In this article we discuss why fractal patterns are an appropriate model for web systems and how semantic web technologies can be used to design scalable and interoperable systems.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1609/aimag.v29i3.2161

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