The definition of the word “semantics” sounds straightforward enough: According to Merriam-Webster, it is the study of meanings. However, if you ask a technologist, an editor, or an advertising rep, you may come up with widely differing interpretations. They might say it’s a practical application of artificial intelligence; a way to streamline back-office operations and make websites stickier; or a meansof contextualizing advertisements for higher efficacy.
None of them is wrong.
Ironically, it is the very breadth, depth, and range of possibility inherent in semantic technology that can prevent content companies from experimenting with it, though it may be one of the most useful commercial innovations of the past decade. The murkiness of the word itself, not to mention the standards, acronyms, and jargon that can dominate the discussion of semantics, only adds to the confusion. David Siegel, author ofPull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business (Portfolio, 2009), says, “Semantics was a bad word from the get-go. A better word would have been unambiguous.”
As both understanding of the possibilities inherent in the semantic web and tools to harness it have matured, semantic technology has finally gained a foothold in practical business applications, in areas from search to back-office processing to advertising. Siegel believes that enterprise adoption has reached a critical growth point. “I’d say we’re solidly 1% of the way there, in terms of adoption for the enterprise,” says Siegel. “And that’s very good.”
Particularly for the content industry, semantic technology offers a compelling story. At the June 2010 SemTech conference in San Francisco, Bob DuCharme of TopQuadrant, a provider of semantic web technologies, pointed out that publishing and semantics share much in common. “The publishing industry has lots of real data and metadata already, and they have experience in developing vocabularies,” DuCharme noted.
Tom Tague, vice president of platform strategies at ThomsonReuters who leads the OpenCalais initiative, a web service that automatically creates rich semantic metadata, agrees that within the content world, semantics has found its beachhead. “The future is here,” Tague says, citing a favorite aphorism. “It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
A Brief History
Semantics first made a big splash with a 2001 article in Scientific American by Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler, and Ora Lassila called “The Semantic Web.” The article laid out a future on the web in which common data formats and definitions would enable people (and machines) to share information at a much more granular level, moving through disparate databases to find interrelated information based
on a shared “aboutness.” Instead of the document in which it resided, the lowest common denominator on the semantic web envisioned by the authors was the information itself.
- The Top 4 Myths About Semantic Web (digitalassetmanagement.org.uk)
- The Semantic Web, Linked Data, and Knowledge Organisation (digitalassetmanagement.org.uk)
- The Top 4 Myths About Semantic Web – WebNewser (mediabistro.com)
- Semantic Web Tools Emerge — Redmond Developer News (reddevnews.com)