A Semantic Web Primer, by Grigoris Antoniou and Frank van Harmelen, achieves just what it sets out to achieve: to be a useful undergraduate introduction to the semantic Web. This actually has much broader applicability, because, in the words of the authors':
The question arises whether there is a need for [such an introductory undergraduate] textbook, given that all information is available online. We think there is a need because on the Web there are too many sources of varying quality and too much information. Some information is valid, some outdated, some wrong, and most sources talk about obscure details. Anyone who is a newcomer and wishes to learn something about the Semantic Web, or who wishes to set up a course on the Semantic Web, is faced with these problems. This book is meant to help out.
I obtained the book for that very same purpose, and it does provide a fairly useful basis for self-study for the layperson practitioner. It also contains exercises at the end of each section making it useful for course teaching.
The book proceeds from a general discussion of the semantic Web and progresses through XML to XML Schema, XPath and XSL and XSLT, then the RDF and RDF Schema frameworks, on to then OWL and predicate logic, applications, example uses and ontologies and possible future developments. The progression builds in line with Berner-Lee’s "layer" cake diagram (see my earlier post) and explains concepts clearly and well.
But it is a prettly slim volume. After removal of blank pages, listings of markup code and accounting for wide white space margins, there are perhaps only 110 pages of useful content in the whole volume.
The references at the end of each section are excellent and will be important follow-on reading for serious students.
I think — as an introductory guide and as a quick way to cut through all of the overlapping and confusing resources on the Web — that this hardcover book deserves attention. But it does not, unfortunately, alone constitute the one-stop introductory resource it could have been. After reading this, it is time to move on to the more detailed section references. I actually suspect that it will also be little consulted as a reference source on the shelf.
But, if you have been wanting a pretty good global, easy introduction to the semantic Web, this is probably worth your purchase. The book can be obtained for about $30 new from Amazon (April 2004, MIT Press, 272 pp.).