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The Web of Data


While there is wide consensus on what is meant by “Web 1.0” and “Web 2.0”, there seems to be some confusion on what “Web 3.0” already is or at least is soon going to be. However, most web specialists would probably agree that the web to come, whatever number we want to attach to it, will provide content that is not only, or not at all, intended for human consumption, but is specifically designed to be directly processed by machines: a “machine-readable web”. Tim Berners-Lee conceived of such a web during the 1990s, and called it the “Semantic Web”*; this term was meant to capture the fact that data, in order to be shared by wide communities, should have an unambiguous and rigorously defined meaning that is, in some appropriate sense, accessible to software applications. More recently, the term “Web of Data” came to be preferred to convey the same idea.
While the Web of Data is still poorly understood by the casual web user, its basic elements are spreading quickly in various forms (like Google’s “Knowledge Graph”, structured data included in standard HTML pages, repositories of Linked Data, etc.). In an era when the wide availability and shareability of data is extremely important to the economy and to government (think for example of the importance of sharing reliable data on the evolution of COVID-19), the capacity to understand the potentiality and implications of the Web of Data becomes crucial in many areas of the social sciences.
This course has two main goals:

  • to promote a better understanding of the current development of the web as a Web of Data and of its potential impact on different types of human activities that crucially involve the sharing of data
  • to stimulate a critical analysis of the idea that the meaning of data can be made accessible to machines by adopting suitable formal tools (mainly based on Logic and Artificial Intelligence research).

Structure of the course
The course is based on four meetings. In the first two meetings the lecturer will present the main ideas underlying the Web of Data. At the end of the second meeting, the participants will choose a topic on which they will write a 2500-3000-word paper. Every participant will then submit a 300-word abstract, which will be briefly presented and discussed in the third meeting. In the fourth meeting, each participant will shortly present the thesis that they will fully develop in the paper.

The course has no strict prerequisites, apart from a general understanding of the current web (1.0 and 2.0) and a motivation to understand in what directions the web is likely to develop in the near future.

The evaluation will be based on the following items:

  1. A preliminary 300-word abstract describing the topic that the student intends to tackle in the context of the course (to be submitted on the iCorsi platform within 10 days from the choice of the student’s topic, i.e., by March 19, 2021).
  2. A 15-minute PowerPoint presentation (followed a discussion of about 10 minutes) that summarizes the main points of the essay that the student intends to submit at the end of the course.
  3. A written essay of about 2500 words presenting the result of the student’s work (to be submitted three weeks after the PowerPoint presentation, i.e., by April 27, 2021).

A list of relevant readings will be presented during the first meeting of the course.


* Berners-Lee, Tim & Hendler, James. (2001). Publishing on the Semantic Web. Nature, 410, 1023-4. DOI: 10.1038/35074206.



Colombetti M.

Course director

Fornara N.


Additional information

Academic year
PhD programme in Communication Sciences, PhD course, Facultative course, 1st year
PhD programme in Communication Sciences, PhD course, Facultative course, 2nd year
PhD programme in Communication Sciences, PhD course, Facultative course, 3rd year