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How We Use the Internet to Find Information


  1. Abstract
  2. How We Use the Internet to Find Information
    1. The Semantic Web
  3. NEXT


Interoperability of digital information became an issue almost as soon as computers made their way into engineering offices. Many organizations from around the world have been working on this topic for many years, from Owner/Operators, Constructors, Consulting Engineers, and Software Developers. Many standards organizations world wide are involved, some having been created just for this purpose.

How We Use the Internet to Find Information

The Internet is the enabling technology for sharing plant information easily. (Going back to the flight metaphor, the Internet probably occupies the same place in the interoperability of plant information as does air in flight.) Without the Internet, on top of all the other steps required to transfer information between our software applications, we would have to add the chore of creating a link between each pair of business partners.

But beyond the simple connection between plant project participants, when we try to use the Internet beyond simply calling up web pages, we run into many of the same issues that we run into trying to make plant applications communicate with each other. This brings us to the Semantic Web.

The Semantic Web

The Semantic Web is another topic that most people will not have to know about in order to use ISO 15926. However, it is interesting as background information.

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1990, he envisioned much more than what we see today, which is essentially version 1.0. He envisioned an web environment where people could ask their personal digital assistants questions like "Is there a medical doctor near here that specializes in geriatrics who has an open appointment before Friday noon?"--and then go for coffee.

Currently the World Wide Web is built to link documents primarily for human consumption. Computers can process web pages for layout and visual format, but they have no way to process the semantics; to know what they mean. Thus, if you wanted to find a doctor in the example above, you may be able to use the World Wide Web to get a list of doctors and their specialty, and maps with which to judge the distance, but you would still have to call each doctor's office individually to see if she is taking new patients, and if there is a suitable open appointment. Using existing sources of information, one might get lucky and get an appointment with the first call from the Yellow Pages, but it could easily take much longer.

The Semantic Web is all about describing things in a manner that computers can understand, so that you can ask questions like this one and let a digital assistant do the leg work. Using Semantic Web technology, data can be shared and re-used across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.

ISO 15926 uses some Semantic Web technology to describe plant objects in a way that computers can understand. Where it differs from the Semantic Web is in the level of precision. The Semantic Web initiative seeks to map all the legacy data on the World Wide Web in all its chaotic glory to give "pretty good" information. In the field of Plant Design, "pretty good" is a pretty good way to blow things up and kill people. ISO 15926 requires more precise definitions, but uses some of the same tools.

If you are interesting in knowing more about the Semantic Web, here are some references:


Markup languages have a long history in enabling computers to handle large bodies of text properly, without human intervention. When encoded with a markup language, the content of a body of text is separated from the format, or appearance of the text. This is an important concept in ISO 15926 where the goal is to embed enough context into the content that we do not need to see the format, or appearance, of the information to know what it means.


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