Linguist? Here’s Why the Semantic Web Confuses You – from SES Chicago
Because of what I do – specialising in international and multilingual search that is – for years people have been explaining to me the importance of the ’semantic web’ and that I should be getting involved. Many thought it had something to do with linguistics (including me). Essentially I saw ’semantic web’ as something to do with contextual meaning and have struggled to get my head around the idea of computers and algorithms figuring out abstract meaning by ‘understanding’ semantically what was meant by the words on the page.
So for instance, a page about ‘villas’ – could either be villas for sale, to rent, to visit, a guidebook about villas or even just an address list. So for me, semantic web techniques would need to figure out those differences by being really really clever.
That’s right Andy – you’re actually spot on – except for the figuring out part. The bit that’s been confusing me is that we’re not going to let search engines figure it out – well we’re not going to leave to them to guess would be a more correct statement – we’re going to tell them what the meaning of the page is by adding to the coding. Simple as that.
Congratulations to Sean Golliher, Jamie Taylor, Martin Hepp, Jay Myers and Nick Cox for putting together one of the most illuminating panels I’ve seen at SES or any conference for some considerable time. Well planned, well prepared, gripping to the end despite the relatively dry and potentially dull subject. The panel was anything but dull.
As I explained to Sean Golliher after the session, a lot of the discussion during the panel was about the use of vocabularies that describe data to enable machines to better use and position the data for retrieval at query time. But the semantic web industry needs to put its own act in order because it has been using confusing languages or vocabulary itself. What are RDFa, Microformats or Semantic web for instance. The concept is actually simple; the industry has undersold itself to potential users by using too many vocabularies and confusing terms and making it sound like you only had a small chance of understanding what it was all about unless you had a PHD and lived in academia.
According to Sean, this will be corrected by the adoption of the term HTML5. I’m not sure about that because that’s yet another way of describing the same thing. Our of all the descriptions and terms used in the session the one that turned my light on was “rich meta data”. Yes metatags are coming back and are going to be even more interesting than they were before.
Yahoo already supports a lot of the different ‘vocabularies’ of the rich meta data to present events, movies, products and many other categories. Google and Bing are both followers on this topic. The concept is one of labelling. The idea is that each element that needs to be found on the web will have labels that are chosen from a popular vocabulary – such as GoodRelations, Martin Hepp’s creation. And by labelling with rich meta data what that content is, the search engines will be better able to exploit it.
The vocabularies are open source – and in theory, according Nick Cox – search engines will work with all varieties. My takeaway was that that won’t in fact be the case. I see search engine’s choosing the popular vocabularies – such as GoodRelations – so there will be winners and users. However, it would be theoretically possible for a new ‘vocabularly’ to come along and gain sufficient traction to achieve the popularity.
What does this mean for SEO? We all need to start adding ‘rich meta data’ to describe what we are showing on our web pages. Events need to be ‘tagged’ as events, products need to be ‘tagged’ as products and so on. Then the search engines will now what to do. BestBuy.com is reporting a 30% improvement in organic visitors to its site as a result of introducing rich meta data.
Another takeaway? There is a BIG job for SEOs to do in terms of helping clients achieve this in order to help the search engines. If they achieve this, maybe the search engines will give SEOs more credit!