Why should I care about the Semantic Web?

12 December 2014 - Kev Kirkland

The Semantic Web is a technology which has been hovering in the background for over a decade now. Why should you care about it?

The internet is a sprawling mass of information and sometimes it’s hard to find your way around. To get information about people, places and other things you have to read tons of text and do text searches in products like Google. The Semantic Web is a way of making sense of unstructured data and it gives us a rich way to organise knowledge. The language of the web is HTML (i.e. web pages) and Semantic Web expands on this to lets us represent just about anything on the Web, not just documents.

Funny enough, one of the most valuable things about the Web is it’s web like nature. It’s a mass of connections so you can start anywhere and follow links to crawl to other parts of the web. Semantic Web gives us a more generalised way of exploring these connections between things, where the connections have meaning attached to them as well as the destinations.

How could this help you and your organisation?

You can use the Semantic Web to give more information to search engines so they can deliver relevant people to your site. You can add ‘meaning’ to the terms on your site using semantic markup that modern search engines can recognise. One of the key advantages of this is disambiguation. On your web page you might write that you’re based in Paris. How would a search engine understand that you meant Paris, Texas rather than Paris, France? You could add some extra text like “Paris, Texas”, “Paris in the USA”, “Paris (the Stateside one)”. It is hard for machines, like the ones behind search engines, to understand all the ways of expressing where you are. However if you add a bit of semantic markup behind the scenes you could use an exact latitude/longitude pointer to your location. You don’t need to change the way the text appears to humans, the information is extra invisible markup which means both the search engine computers and your human readers are happy.

The Semantic Web’s usefulness goes way beyond search optimisation. It’s a very rich system for modelling knowledge, both about real and conceptual subjects. It works in a decentralised way so knowledge can be spread amongst many sources just like the way knowledge is spread amongst humanity. It’s driven by W3C (the guys behind HTML) and large web companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are supporting programmes like schema.org to get this semantic information out there in sites.

The downside is that the tools are still in development. With Data Unity we hope to contribute to the Semantic Web tools available, particulary for discovering and using Open Data on the internet.

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