The term was coined by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium, which oversees the development of proposed Semantic Web standards. He defines the Semantic Web as "a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines."
The term "Semantic Web" is often used more specifically to refer to the formats and technologies that enable it. These technologies include the Resource Description Framework (RDF), a variety of data interchange formats (e.g. RDF/XML, N3, Turtle, N-Triples), and notations such as RDF Schema (RDFS) and the Web Ontology Language (OWL), all of which are intended to provide a formal description of concepts, terms, and relationships within a given knowledge domain.
Many of the technologies proposed by the W3C already exist and are used in various contexts, particularly those dealing with information that encompasses a limited and defined domain, and where sharing data is a common necessity, such as scientific research or data exchange among businesses. In addition, other technologies with similar goals have emerged, such as microformats. However, the Semantic Web as originally envisioned, a system that enables machines to understand and respond to complex human requests based on their meaning, has remained largely unrealized and its critics have questioned its feasibility.
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