Thursday, 15 May 2008

Trust on the Web

My research has led me to think about trust on the web. Many of today's internet applications rely on trust: eBay and PayPal are only a few. It seems internet users are completely divided on the matter. I was at some event recently and I was speaking to mother about how she uses computers. She told me she didn't shop online at all because she couldn't trust it. It was an interesting attitude because I personally feel more secure about making payments online. I know they are near instant, I can do that from whichever computer I happen to be sitting at at the time, and I don't need to leave that seat in order to do it.

Semantic Web provides context to data. Context provides the means for the data to be checked and validated. But the problem of fake data hasn't disappeared, it can just shift to having fake metadata instead. I wonder if Semantic markup will build up the trust of the internet user? How will it do this? What information could it provide the user that they are secure? Certainly in many situations it may have the opposite effect: machine-readable context will allow machines to go off and bring back relevant data automatically. To an unsuspecting user, this could be quite an un-nerving experience, especially if the machine knew what extra data to provide based on what other people wanted when searching for other similar things. I'm getting a bit carried away here, but I'm thinking about the changes Semantics will make to our experiences on the web, and I think there will have to be a lot of trust before the technology can take off.

Of course, this is only true for the internet users like that mother at the party. There are internet users (myself included) that will jump at the opportunity of having a computer provide them with relevant data before they themselves have even realised they want it. In my limited experience, younger generations will almost certainly take this attitude and some there will be plenty of scope for the Semantic Web or "Web 3.0" to survive.

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