The semantic web promises distributed processing of knowledge structures such as RDF and Topic Maps in an intelligent fashion. However, while lots of effort has been put into defining these representations, very little has been defined in terms of how clients and servers, or semantic web peers will actually communicate. This paper defines a conceptual framework for distributed processing of semantic web data. It goes on to evaluate several works in this area in terms of the conceptual framework. With this conceptual framework in place we propose a topic map fragment model and with this model we define the operations for querying, navigating and updating remote topic maps. This remote topic map protocol (RTP) and the related RDF initiatives together constitute a family of, what we term, ‘Semantic Web Servers’. We conclude the paper by describing our vision for the enhancement and deployment of these servers in order to bring the semantic web to life.