The insightful presentations here at the Semantic Web Media Summit in New York yesterday have me thinking about a line from Steven Levy’s history of Google, In the Plex, which illustrates the value of context in Web search: “A rock is a rock. It’s also a stone, and it could be a boulder…but put ‘little’ in front of rock, and it’s the capital of Arkansas. Which is not an ‘ark’. Unless Noah is around.”
The Semantic Web, sometimes defined as a collection of technologies for identifying entities like people, places, companies and concepts in online content, has been a buzzword in our industry for several years, and with good reason. Online content that has been translated into structured data, whether by publishers or third-party programmatic analysis, isn’t just useful for search engine users; it has great promise for all sorts of challenges facing communications professionals: news monitoring, social analytics and influencer identification. But we’ve been talking about the promise of Semantic Web technologies (here, here and here) since 2008, and only now is it really coming to fruition for public relations pros.
Natural language processing tools have come to life in platforms like our partner Radian6’s Insights platform, through solutions like OpenAmplify and OpenCalais. An equally important development is occurring in media companies that are looking at the Semantic Web as a way to add value to their own content.
As with all bleeding edge technologies, there is a learning curve. “If we have a goal of thinking of our content as data, we’re going to be able to repurpose it better. To traditional editors, data is something I.T. does,” says Michael Dunn, vice president and chief technology officer for Hearst Interactive Media, who opened the summit with a presentation titled “Why Media Companies Should Be Interested in the Semantic Web.”
Dunn predicts that just as journalism students today are learning to repurpose and promote their content through the social Web, soon they will focus on making their content available as structured data. That’s a powerful idea. Beyond helping companies filter out noise when monitoring brands (Target, Cheer, Tide and Orange being classic examples), linked data will help us answer we questions we don’t know to ask about what’s trending, and maybe even predict what’s next. This technology hasn’t quite hit critical mass yet, but I’m optimistic.
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