December 11, 2008

The future of the Semantic Web? It’s already here

Author: Jay Krall

An expert weighs in on how Web 3.0 is about to make media monitoring easier

For public relations professionals, finding mentions about a particular brand or product is getting more challenging as the vast clutter of the Web continues to grow. While paid monitoring services like those offered by Cision and others can help, for those using free-text search engines like Google for media monitoring, combing through pages of irrelevant search results has become routine. For example, acronyms pose a problem: how many instances of the term “HP” referring to “horsepower” do you have to sift through to find articles about Hewlett-Packard products? Plenty.

Worse yet, the longer your queries get, the harder it is for search engines to find what you really want. It’s almost 2009. With all this technological innovation happening so fast, why does it seem like computers still can’t read very well? If they were more literate, the monitoring of media and social media for brand mentions would be a lot easier for everyone.

That’s just one practical argument for the importance of the Semantic Web. First described in 1999 by World Wide Web Consortium director Tim Berners-Lee, the Semantic Web, also referred to as Web 3.0, is often described as a vision for the next generation of the Web: pages that can search each other and pull from each other’s data intelligently, melding Web sites and news feeds into precisely honed, individual Web experiences.  But actually, the technologies of the Semantic Web are already hard at work, thanks to a group of computer scientists from around the world who are making Berners-Lee’s vision a reality.

Kingsley Idehen, CEO of OpenLink Software, is one of those pioneers. He is one of the creators of DBpedia, a Semantic Web tool that culls data from Wikipedia in amazingly precise ways. The project is a collaboration of OpenLink Software, the University of Leipzig and Freie University Berlin. Simply put, it divides up the site’s information into tags, and uses those tags to develop searches in which the subject is clearly defined, using a computer language that could soon be applied all across the Web. Beginning in late 2006, a program assigned 274 million tags describing nearly 1 billion facts to catalog Wikipedia in this way using the Resource Description Framework (RDF), a commonly accepted format for Semantic Web applications.

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