Semantic Web Gets a Boost

Via Technology Review:

Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have teamed up to encourage Web page operators to make the meaning of their pages understandable to search engines.

The move may finally encourage widespread use of technology that makes online information as comprehensible to computers as it is to humans. If the effort works, the result will be not only better search results, but also a wave of other intelligent apps and services able to understand online information almost as well as we do.

The three big Web companies launched the initiative, known as Schema.org, last week. It defines an interconnected vocabulary of terms that can be added to the HTML markup of a Web page to communicate the meaning of concepts on the page. A location referred to in text could be defined as a courthouse, which Schema.org understands as being a specific type of government building. People and events can also be defined, as can attributes like distance, mass, or duration. This data will allow search engines to better understand how useful a page may be for a given search query—for example, by making it clear that a page is about the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, not five-sided regular shapes.

The article goes on to note that Schema.org standards support microformats microdata* rather than RDFa which is supported and promoted by the international Web standards body W3C.

Still, if it can gain traction, it’s a big step forward for machine understanding of all this content we’re throwing at the Web which, in turn, means a whole new class of applications using such data might be in our near future.

*Hat tip to Aaron Bradley (@aaranged) on Twitter for pointing out that it’s microdata, not microformats, that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are supporting.

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