Web 3.0 Watch: Online Personal Assistants

Many people talk about the semantic web, where websites will begin to basically think smarter and give you better service and search results because they can understand the difference between, say, an edible nut and a crazy nut.

The nut example is commonly used to describe the semantic web, but is there more to that?  An article in the New York Times seems to think so, and also seems to think that we may be close to having these services.  Take this example in the article titled “A Software Secretary That Takes Charge” by John Markoff:

Imagine you are on a business trip and your computer discovers that your flight will be late. It automatically reschedules your dinner in New York, informs your three guests of the change and tells you they’ve been notified.

Basically, a website that can recognize “late = bad” and that “bad = do something.”  So, imagine if Learning Management Systems could do this?  A week before a paper is due, it notices that not even a rough draft has been submitted, so a notice goes out to the student about the deadline, or even starts a private discussion thread between the instructor and learner so they can dialogue about the paper, checks the registrar’s database to see if the student might have dropped the class, etc.  That is a pretty simple example, but there could be more to it than that.

Personal research assistants would be nice, of course – especially ones that can recognize specific articles and blog posts that match your paper’s topic.  What if you were working on paper in Google Docs or Zoho Writer and every day that you signed in you got a list of links to articles, news stories, blog posts, Flickr images, YouTube videos, etc that matched what you were writing about.  And not just billions of Google search-like links to anything that contains the same keywords your paper does, but a short list of specific resources that you could actually use?

As long as they don’t come up with a site that actually writes original papers for you, this could be great.

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