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The Search for Meaning

28 September 2008 1,447 views 8 Comments

The Web is changing. The current Web is designed to allow computers to retrieve and deliver documents from other computers for the end user to view, read, and interpret. As anyone who has used Google’s (GOOG), Yahoo’s (YHOO) and Microsoft’s (MSFT) search engines can attest, sometimes the retrieval of desired documents and information is accurate and sometimes it is way off base. The Semantic Web, others prefer to call it Web 3.0, has the potential to change the game completely. In the Semantic Web, computers have the ability to understand the meaning of things, content, and documents. In essence, computers can read and interpret information, thereby lightening or shortening one of the steps human users have to perform in order to obtain, discover, and understand information online.

The game is changing but it has just begun.
The transition to Web 3.0 is in its nascent stages. Much work remains before it becomes a widespread reality but the promise is enormous. Some potential breakthroughs include a deeper understanding of user behavior, understanding what matters to them, and a revolutionary improvement in search. A lot of my work centers around health informatics, privacy of data, and multi-dimensional messaging. Much of it would be helped tremendously with the more intelligent approach promised by the Semantic Web.

Everyone is a publisher.
Google made a quantum leap over existing search engines when it launched. As the Web grows and everyone has become a publisher, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the search results have deteriorated in quality. This is because Google’s search engine cannot extrapolate or extract meaning from the web pages it scans and indexes. It can only match the words you type into the query field with the millions of web pages or documents that contain those same words. The next great search engine will be a semantic search engine. This could still be Google, but it will be a completely different Google from what we’re used to now.

Learning more about the Semantic Web.
Web 3.0 Conference & Expo Jupitermedia Corporation (JUPM) is producing the first ever Web 3.0 Conference & Expo this October in Silicon Valley. Some of the cutting edge companies pioneering advances in attendance include Dapper, Delve Networks, Metaweb Technologies, Powerset (recently bought by Microsoft – maybe Gates and Company get it after all, despite the bad Seinfeld commercials), Hakia, Peer39, and Zemanta. It’s exciting to see significant sums of venture capital being devoted to this opportunity to radically change search and the Web in general. I will be speaking in the Enterprise Information Management session.

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  • Wallen's said:

    I have to say that I am skeptic about semantic web. It’s true that it can be helpful but it’s far from the panacea.

    Semantic web can be helpful to put together different data sets, i.e. hard facts. But the context of a sentence or a text gives it a different meaning. The messenger also. The framing of the reader also. The history of a person changes the understanding he has also. Etc.
    Take a simple example with the word “competitor”. It has a totally different meaning depending on who you are. If you are google CEO, it’s Yahoo or Microsoft. If you are GM CEO, it’s Toyota & co. You actually point to this in your post “Left vs.right” where depending of the viewer, he/she looks at things differently(though there are much more than 2 ways to look at the world). I doubt that computers will ever be able to capture the complexity of every human thinking. What would be really game changing in search is something that would allow a person to be directed to contents by like-minded people and not to the “most popular” contents, even if partially contextualized. That’s what would increase relevancy.

  • Allan (author) said:

    @Wallen’s – I think what you described, which is a worthy direction of pursuit, can actually be accomplished through Semantic methodologies.

  • Wallen's said:

    Agree, the simplified “competitor” example I used above is easy to do. Let me try to be more precise. The meaning of a given information is different depending on its context (historical, cultural, etc.), its author’s and readers’ framing (e.g., type of logic, personal history, emotions, etc.). To take this into account, it would mean that a computer would be able to understand the different contexts and framings of all internet users. This what I am doubting is feasible… Let’s face it as human beings we have challenges to understand each other so how could we build a technology that would overcome these challenges. A developer working on a semantic project has his own framing which will influence his code whether he wants it or not. The above does not mean that semantic is useless ; on the opposite it can be extremely useful. My point is that it’s not the panacea as some people say it will be. Let’s see what the future says.

  • Matt said:

    Hi Allan,

    You commented on my blog and said you wanted to pick my brain about my search + display post. You can send me an email at mlillig2002 (@) yahoo (dot) com

  • Gregory Yankelovich said:

    It is very interesting topic and discussion. IMHO the main reason people have such difficulties in communicating complex concepts is a lack of discipline/training/protocol of the communication process. In academic circles the discussions used to have very specific format where the moderator would carefully frame the purpose and focus of the communication, define in great detail the terminology used for this particularly discussion, methodologies and terms were agreed and therefore to remove a lot of potential ambiguity from the start. In “normal” business or personal communications people violently disagree about totally disjointed topics without even noticing it.

    I am involved in a start up, Amplified Analytics, which managed to resolve some of these challenges IMHO, to produce useful and actionable information in a very specific field. We are just about to go into private beta testing, but raising capital, to go to market, in this economic environment might become even more challenging.

    Allan, thank you for leaving very thoughtful comment on my blog. I would love to get your opinion about my start-up. Let me know if we can talk.

  • Nick said:

    @Allan thanks for stopping by my blog. I too, am a little skeptical about the Semantic web, mainly because I am not too sure I trust the tech yet. This will probably change over time, however as people begin to rely on it more. Human interpretation can be confused by emotion and agenda… two things no computer has.

  • Sean Pennington said:

    hi, i was just curious what is a semantic web. thanks in advance for any replys to my quesion.

  • kanika chaudhary said:

    i want to know the meaning of a sentence….. how can i?

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