By: Ian Stallings- Bayshore Solutions Programming Team
What’s the Semantic Web Anyway?
One of the terms buzzing around Internet technology circles is “The Semantic Web”. But what is it exactly? According to the W3C FAQ the semantic web is “.. a group of methods and technologies to allow machines to understand the meaning – or “semantics” – of information on the World Wide Web.”. That sounds great. But what does that mean exactly?
Machines can already search the web after all. But that’s where this comes in. Currently searching the web means entering terms into a search box, stringing words together, and trying to find a useful match using just those words or phrases. But what if the machine could understand context of the information on the internet? What if it could actually return all related information, even if the search term you used didn’t necessarily include any phrase or words related to it? With the Semantic Web technology we can do this.
The semantic web essentially means adding information about the resources on your Website. Programmers refer to this information, used to describe other things, as meta-data. It’s data about data. A current use, and certainly the first mainstream use of semantic technology, is the Resource Description Framework, or RDF. Now before your eyes glaze over, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. It’s essentially just more markup that programmers such as myself use in our HTML code to wrap content. A great example of using RDF is RSS feeds. RSS means RDF Site Summary. It’s used to describe a an RSS feed. So when I post this blog article the RSS feed used to describe it to software clients such as Outlook, will be based on RDF, a semantic web technology. The RSS feed will give you context about the post, the date, the subject, the authors, etc. RSS Feed readers such as Feedburner read this information and provide summaries to the user in a nice format.
So that’s one current use, and it’s nice. But it’s just the top of the iceberg for the semantic web. Right now large companies are rolling out new uses of the semantic web to describe all kinds of data. Health providers are using it to describe patient data and correlate related issues. Engineers are using it to describe plans online, so an image of a building can contain the actual architectural data. Government is using it to describe the vast mountains of data they consume and publish. And last but not least, online store fronts are using it to wrap their items in contextual information describing what they are, how much they cost, how much they weigh, size, and more.
Best Buy is one of these online retailers using semantic web to enhance not only their own understanding of what they sell and how, but also it enhances the index used by major search engines when indexing their site. In turn their page rank on Google went up tremendously. No small feat. So just by wrapping their data in new markup, also known as tags, they can increase the visibility of their products. The first thing Best Buy did was to use the GoodRelations semantic format, which describes product data. This immediately increased the products page rank in Google. The next step they took was to put their related store data in RDFa format, a subset of RDF used to embed RDF data into HTML pages. So now when Google indexes their site they not only can understand what the items are and return them to users when appropriate, but they can also tell the users what store they are in without having to scour the best buy site.
One can see how this will have a huge impact on search results and SEO in the coming years.