When you break it all down, the Internet is essentially a retriever. You tell it what you want and it blindly brings it to you, if it can. However, that may soon be changing with the introduction of the Semantic Web. Instead of just copying and mimicking our words, the Internet will understand what we’re trying to say. Crazy, right? Google Hummingbird, which uses a quick and precise algorithm based on semantic searching, was a major step toward shifting the algorithm toward a Semantic Web. But what is the Semantic Web? How does it work and how will it affect you?
What Is the Semantic Web?
So what is the Semantic Web? As stated in the May 2001 issue of Scientific American, “The Semantic Web is an extension of the current web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation.”
If that doesn’t make sense, just start with the word semantics. Semantics is described as “the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning.” You can also define it as “the meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text.” Typically, when you type a phrase into Google, the search engine copies what you’ve typed and uses keywords to produce a list of search results. The algorithm doesn’t understand what you’ve typed; it’s simply copying keywords and retrieving results.
The Semantic Web, on the other hand, understands the general meaning of web pages and search queries. It uses defined relationships and linked data to understand the semantics behind our words. Using this information, it produces more useful search results and helps us better interact with the web.
How Does It Work?
Now that you’ve got a basic answer to the question, “What is the Semantic Web?”, let’s delve in a bit deeper.
How can the web understand meaning and intent? Well, in a way, it is taught. We teach it by using languages like Resource Description Framework (RDF), Web Ontology Language (OWL), and Extensible Markup Language (XML) to describe information and resources, as opposed to the current web language Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), which only describes documents and the links between them. By inserting machine-readable metadata about pages and their relationships, we are helping the web access resources in a more intelligent way. And as the web begins to understand the relationships between pieces of information (as well as the properties of that information), it is able to understand our requests and efficiently and accurately process them. The web won’t always be able to understand our human requests, but it will be able to process them more intelligently.
Unfortunately, the Semantic Web has been progressing very slowly. It was developed by professionals with a background in logic and intelligence, but for those without this academic background, it’s a difficult program to understand. And because it is a collaborative movement (led by the World Wide Web Consortium), it is important that more people step on board and push the cause forward. The goal is to convert the current web into a “web of data” that can be processed by machines.
Although the idea was introduced many years ago (in the early 1960s) and the term Semantic Web has been around since 2001, it is still a largely unrealized idea. Or rather, a work in progress. That’s why Google Hummingbird is such a big deal.
Google Hummingbird & the Semantic Web
Besides being the first completely revamped algorithm since 2001, Google Hummingbird (the newest update to the search engine’s algorithm) is the first update to take semantics into account. Instead of just noting your keywords and offering a list of websites that include those keywords, Hummingbird will offer results that reflect the meaning of your query. If all goes well, the produced results should be far more accurate because they’re responding to your intent.
Hummingbird is the first step toward shifting the algorithm toward a Semantic Web, but the concept has yet to be fully realized. However, as more people learn about the Semantic Web and more professionals get on board, we can expect the web to become more contextually aware and our search results to become more on-point. It’s an exciting development, but we’ve still got a ways to go.
So what is the Semantic Web? A more intelligent and understanding web. A better web. The web of the future.
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