Have you heard of the semantic web? Its the brainchild of Sir Tim Berners-Lee. He invented the world wide web and now he's trying to give us the world wide web v2.0 - and so far its been 15 years in the making.
I read an interview with Berners-Lee in Technology Review a few weeks ago where he talked about the idea of the semantic web - "The common thread to the semantic web is that there's lots of information out there...on databases, spreadsheets and websites that you can read but you can't manipulate. The key thing is that this data exists but the computers don't know what it is and how it interrelates. You can't write programs to use it. But when there's a web of global semantic data, then you'll be able to combine the data you know about with other data that you don't know about...we'll be able to write programs that will actually help (us with our lives) because they'll be able to understand the data out there rather than just presenting it to us on the screen."
And he gave an example - "Suppose you're browsing the web and you find a seminar advertised, and you decide to go. Now, there is all sorts of information on that page which is accessible to you as a human being, but your computer doesn't know what it means. So you must open a new calendar entry and paste the information in there. Then get your address book and add new entries for the people involved. And then if you wanted to be complete, find the latitude and longitude of the seminar and program that into your GPS device so you could find it.
Its very laborious to do all this by hand. What you would like to be able to do is just tell the computer, "I'm going to this seminar". If there were a semantic web version of the page it would have labelled information on it that would tell the computer "this is an event", and what time and date it is. And it would automatically add your travel to your to your event book. it would add the people to your address book, and it would program your GPS to give you directions. It would have the relationship between the event and the various people chairing it. And those people would have semantic web personal pages, which contained information about how you could contact them.
Your address book can now grow from a closed repository of private data to a view on the people-related data in the world."
Make sense? One of the first steps in this revolution has been the emergence of friend-of-a-friend (FOAF) files. These are the semantic web personal pages that Berners-Lee talked about above. My FOAF file is at http://www.jamie-thomson.net/foaf.rdf. Feel free to link to it!
There's loads more information available:
Some FOAF apps (the interesting and fun stuff):
I don't know anyone else yet that has a FOAF file so if you have one...let me know and I'll link to you from mine!