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What is the semantic web and what can we do with it?

What is the semantic web and why should we care? Essentially the Semantic web is all about words and information. Specifically it’s an idea cooked up by legendary internet creator Tim Berners Lee who’s concept is about to set the world of web searching and the current state of search engine optimization on it’s ear. As you continue reading you’ll get a quick preview of what’s going to be possible. In some cases it’s already possible now if we look hard enough. My guess is that we won’t be looking too hard in the near future as these new services and technologies take hold. SEO is all about getting found in the search engines and ideally we (the website owner and SEO company) want our sites to be found because we feel that our information is highly relevant. Google and Yahoo have done a decent job at this so far but after reading below you’ll see that we’re just at the beginning of a wild frontier. In the future, web searching will be highly specific, incredibly relevant and much less in the vein of the current Google and the concept of “I’m feeling lucky”.

1) We’ll access collections of data and software that will easily determine the connections between words and subjects. Obviously this is an oversimplified way to put it but these databases of information will be similar to sites like Wikipedia where the content is built by a shared community of knowledge, cooperation and technology where software brings it all together to present you with the information that you seek.

2) Meaning and knowledge will get extracted from content automatically and the results returned will be highly relevant. For example, you could ask the question “Who has set foot on the moon in the past 50 years?” and it will return the names of the people plus a short summary of their accomplishments. This is much different than the current way we search on Google. An example of this type of service is Powerset and you can read more about it in this great article by Read/Write Web.

3) Semantic web services will “tag” content that is submitted to it, found by indexing the web or by direct “machine learning” where the application will learn about subjects directly from another information site that is well respected. Based on the information gathered and how the services deals with the data we’ll be sitting pretty with the information that we’ve sought. This is not completely different than what Google currently tries to do but it will be much more accurate and based on information instead of websites.

4) Semantic web applications will turn unstructured information into structured information. An example being text links. You will hover over a link and it will return a pop up with a lot more information on the subject on the fly. This has obviously been used before but never automatically on a scale such as this. An example of this is SmartLinks from Adaptive Blue.

5) In the near future we might be talking about an entirely new web platform (Similar to how we refer to things as Web 2.0) where Web 2.0 and the semantic web will colide to present relevant data in totally new ways. A leader in this area is a company called Talis who’s new platform emphasizes the importance of context, role, intention and attention in meaningfully tracking behaviour across the web. Click here to read more about Talis and their new semantic web platform

6) The semantic web will advise you and specifically guide you based on the information that you submit. For example, you can send information about your ideal dream trip to Tripit.com and it will return the perfect, step by step vacation guide for you based on it’s knowledge of the area, information from Wikipedia and other databases of information. I haven’t checked this out yet but it does sound interesting. I just have a bad feeling about something like this and I envision a slew of bad advice similar to some of the wild goose chases that Google Maps and Mapquest take you on. Fears like this are unfair at this point though and services like this should be highly anticipated. My guess is that they’ll be in beta for a good while once they’re officially released to the masses though. It’s one thing to tell you how to get from point A to point B (and still screw up) but to effectively anticipate what you would want to do in between your start and end points during a week is a huge (and very cool) step.

7) Semantic web applications will understand what you’re asking specifically. To understand this concept you need to know that Google analyzes keywords and key phrases, a search engine like Hakia will analyze sentence structure so as to return exactly what you’re asking for. Another new search engine called True Knowledge will also answer direct questions based on natural language analysis plus internal databases of information. Webopedia has this to offer on the subject:

Probably the single most challenging problem in computer science is to develop computers that can understand natural languages. So far, the complete solution to this problem has proved elusive, although a great deal of progress has been made. – Webopedia.com

What’s cool about True Knowledge is that it will give you your answer plus it will tell you how it arrived at the answer. As far as the subject of SEO is concerned I have no idea how it will work exactly but it uses what’s called Query Detection and Extraction (QDEX) to analyze sentence structure and it uses what they’re calling the Semantic Rank Algorithm which relates concepts to each other within the search engine logic.

There are many more parts and exciting things happening within what we’re calling the Semantic Web. The overall goal of all this is to present the user will more meaningful and relevant information. Based on what I’ve read so far these new services will make the current Google look like it’s from the stone age and all our SEO knowledge about how Google ranks sites will be out the window for the most part. I’m guessing that the goal of these smaller companies are to be purchased by Google. In 5 years you won’t be typing in Hakia.com. Those guys will be sitting on a beach somewhere spending bucks and sipping brews and you’ll just access another link within Google to ask it a question and nobody will know that we talked about it here back in the ol’ days.

Check out what’s going on in the semantic web community by visiting sites like Read/Write Web. The developments in this world will certainly affect the world of SEO and how people find your website. We’ll definitely be paying close attention over the next few years.

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Chris Auman is a veteran Internet marketer, website developer, and designer with over 20 years of experience in the trenches. As President and Senior Strategist at Sanctuary, Chris has successfully guided the online marketing efforts for companies large and small. Chris’ clients range from family owned & operated retail operations with a local footprint of 1-10 stores to multinational Fortune 500 companies.

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