Monday, March 17, 2008

Yahoo takes a run at the Semantic Web

A post on a Semantic Web email list just alerted me to a new initiative by Yahoo for "supporting semantic web standards." Now, the question is what that really means.

The article is on the BBC web site and is entitled "Yahoo makes semantic search shift."

The article references a recent post on the Yahoo Search Blog entitled "The Yahoo! Search Open Ecosystem." The post is little more than a teaser, but tells us:

The Data Web in Action
While there has been remarkable progress made toward understanding the semantics of web content, the benefits of a data web have not reached the mainstream consumer. Without a killer semantic web app for consumers, site owners have been reluctant to support standards like
RDF, or even microformats. We believe that app can be web search.

By supporting semantic web standards, Yahoo! Search and site owners can bring a far richer and more useful search experience to consumers. For example, by marking up its profile pages with microformats, LinkedIn can allow Yahoo! Search and others to understand the semantic content and the relationships of the many components of its site. With a richer understanding of LinkedIn's structured data included in our index, we will be able to present users with more compelling and useful search results for their site. The benefit to LinkedIn is, of course, increased traffic quality and quantity from sites like Yahoo! Search that utilize its structured data.

In the coming weeks, we'll be releasing more detailed specifications that will describe our support of semantic web standards. Initially, we plan to support a number of microformats, including hCard, hCalendar, hReview, hAtom, and XFN. Yahoo! Search will work with the web community to evolve the vocabulary framework for embedding structured data. For starters, we plan to support vocabulary components from Dublin Core, Creative Commons, FOAF, GeoRSS, MediaRSS, and others based on feedback. And, we will support RDFa and eRDF markup to embed these into existing HTML pages. Finally, we are announcing support for the OpenSearch specification, with extensions for structured queries to deep web data sources.

We believe that our open approach will let each of these formats evolve within their own passionate communities, while providing the necessary incentive to site owners (increased traffic from search) for more widespread adoption. Site owners interested in learning more about the open search platform can sign up here.

So-called microformats as well as RDFa are very useful technologies, but they do no automatically open up a vast new market. Google succeeded not because they identified a new technology that they convinced web page designers to use, but because they excel at "mining" existing web pages.

In my own view, the Semantic Web will not be ready for prime-time use by consumers until we have tools that can automatically annotate data with the necessary Semantic Web annotations, rather than each user having to do extra work on their own.

I wish the Yahooligans good luck and do sincerely hope that they make good progress, but they have a steep uphill climb ahead of them.

That said, this Yahoo initiative can only help to focus even more attention on the Semantic Web and to spur further innovation to make the Semantic Web ever-more pervasive. Only after businesses such as Yahoo push forward and show people how far we still have to go will people begin to recognize the vastness of The Semantic Abyss.

-- Jack Krupansky


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