OK so it seems like 2008 is going to be the year that the semantic web moves out of the research labs and moves towards something a bit more…well useful I guess!
In the last month or so a few things have happened that have kind of forced me to take notice – and I’ll be honest that was not a decision I took lightly – the semantic web has always been a struggle for me to understand and every time I have tried I have soon retreated to the safety of the little corner of the web I am comfortable with!
That said its hard to ignore the signs. At FOWA: Miami alot of talk was around things like microformats, the Google SocialGraph API, XFN, OpenID and other open standards. Now while I never heard the words ‘semantic web’ mentioned as I understand it these are the building blocks of that movement?
Not long after this Yahoo entered the fray as well first launching FireEagle (http://fireeagle.yahoo.net/)- something that is very much native to the idea of a ‘web of data’. Not surprisingly as Tom Coates, the lead guy at FireEagle as well as a Brit, semi-famous early blogger and scourge of PR/Marketing men, has long been an exponent of this idea – sometimes called ‘dirty semantics’. As a follow up to FireEagle Yahoo then announced (http://www.ysearchblog.com/archives/000527.html) that in the future its search would index the semantic web – adding a new layer of support to things like RDF and microformats.
Paul Miller writing on his new blog over at ZDNet (http://blogs.zdnet.com/semantic-web/?p=114) gave this news a cautious welcome highlighting the possibility for people to ‘game’ the system. That said though a major player like Yahoo making this move in search is likely to encourage Google to follow suit – especially as they are already supporting many of these standards as part of the SocialGraph API and when that happens mainstream acceptance comes alot closer!
A high profile semantic web application called Twine was also launched in private beta recently. Twine has had alot of publicity over the last year but got a bit of a hammering over at ReadWriteWeb (http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/twine_disappoints.php) – perhaps unfairly as it was obviously a work in progress but it did demonstrate that people do have high hopes for these technologies and perhaps some expectation management might be in order!
How does all this effect me? Its not as if I am a developer so its not like I’m going to be hacking together any semantic apps anytime soon. That said I am expected to know which way the wind is blowing on the web and to be able to recommend to people how new technologies can make improvements to their current offerings and how using existing tools can enhance existing communications channels. With the whole web 2/social web thing this has been reasonably straightforward and I have been able to pretty much up-to-date with it and integrate a great many of its tools and philosophies into my work. The semantic web is going to be more of a challenge and I guess we’ll see if I up to it!