Monrai Blog

News about Cypher, Semantic Web, Natural Language Processing, and Computational Linguistics

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Welcome to the Game of the Decade!

A second provider of traditional search (see first) has now entered the Semantic Web, or at least has dipped their toe into the pool. This is encouraging news for the Semweb, it validates the merits of structured data. However, traditional search engines have historically been apprehensive about structured data, and can you blame them? After all, they're in an industry built on a major deficiency of the WWW. Most data you see on a web page comes from a structured database. As an entry in a database, there is no mistake about the info connected to a Review, e.g. who wrote the review, what the subject of the review is, or whether the review is positive or negative. But back at the genesis of the WWW, document retrieval and sharing via HTTP is the only thing that had been... worked out. And the WWW grew so big so fast, that they didn't have time to do it right. People wrote programs that queried the databases, and exported the results into documents written in a standard created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee so that your computer knew how to display it on the screen (e.g. make title large, place these reviews in a table with author and score in each row). But this step destroyed the structured expressed by the rows and columns of the database. The meaning of the data in the webpage had been lost. So search engine set out to divine the web page for structure post-mortem, and some approaches worked out better than others.

So, the WWW is broken, and as long as it's broken, traditional search engines have a place in the market. If the web had been connected at the level of the database to begin with (instead of at the document/webpage level), then web page indexing methods would have absolutely no value today. If the WWW is ever fixed, then traditional search engines may have a non-trivial problem to face. When the W3C announced a new recommendation to create a World Wide Web of Databases, this gave the world a push into the direction fixing the WWW fundamental problem. As we inch closer to that reality, the emphasis on search will diminish and ultimately be replaced by the notion of lookup, which is a new game, and which brings fresh, new opportunities for both consumers and entrepreneurs.

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