The phenomenon of personalized search is an important step forward toward the semantic web. In its own way, personalized search creates a mini semantic web that is based on the preferences and behavior over time of its users. Personalization is the direction in which search engines need to move in order to deliver relevant search results as the amount of information on the Internet continues to increase at an enormous rate.
Shared personalization is the next level of personalized search in that one person can benefit from the experience and knowledge of other users related to specific searches. It is akin to a virtual search engine or a search engine’s topic-specific, shared knowledgebase. Major search players are exploring both these areas which makes the semantic web something that will likely be realized in the near future and will stay for the long term.
Businesses will need to have a better understanding of who their target audience is, what they want, and how they think about what they want. The semantic web will be better for consumers because they will more easily find products and services that provide precisely what they need. Additionally, the corporate community stands to benefit by spending less energy and time pursuing the wrong prospects and marketing to the wrong channels, provided that they properly shift their online marketing strategies accordingly.
This poses a paradigm shift for search engine optimization. The prominence that factors like keyword matching, keyword density, and ranking in the search engine results page have had will be a thing of the past.
What will be more important are factors like understanding how an audience thinks and behaves online, and latent or hidden relationships between ideas and the ways people express those ideas. Then search marketers will need to incorporate that into where they market, how they market, and how they craft messages.
Challenges for the Semantic Web:
An old adage in computer science says, “garbage in is garbage out.” In short, this will be one of the main challenges for the semantic web to overcome. As input comes from a multitude of users via tagging, behavioral data, and other forms, there will be at least three issues to watch out for:
* Incorrect tagging,
* Malicious tagging,
* and Spam tagging.
To the extent that results returned to an Internet user are influenced by the relevant data from other users, those results may be skewed due to any of (or a combination of any of) those factors. Tapping into a knowledgebase is great when the contributors know what they’re doing. You can proudly say, “It’s powered by people” and “Power to the people.” However, what if the contributors (or a significant portion of the contributors) don’t know what they’re doing or have misinformed opinions. We might get, “It’s powered by third graders” or “It’s powered by the uneducated,” which is not as promising.
You also have the possibility of many contributors abusing the system. Imagine if you were stuck with the tagline “Powered by hate-mongers,” “Powered by criminals,” or “Powered by spammers.” The semantic web holds much promise but there are also important challenges to overcome.
Sociology of the Semantic Web:
Truth in Advertising or the Postmodernization of Search
To the extent that results returned to an Internet user are influenced by the relevant data from other users, do we lose factual accuracy or objectivity in the search results? In one form of postmodernism or pragmatism, meaning is a product of whatever linguistic community you’re in and there is nothing beyond that which you should seek because there is nothing beyond that to be had – no truth with a capital T. In the semantic web, are the contributors akin to the linguistic community and the accuracy of the results from your search akin to the postmodern notion of meaning; no facts with a capital F, no objectivity, no Truth in advertising?
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking tagging makes it so” – William Shakepeare [Hamlet Act II, Sc. II] (modified).
People often discuss the impact of the Internet and email on culture. There may be similar discussions about the impact of the semantic web on culture as the information that people find, hold on to, and make use of may be viewed as accurate and true, all the while, it is only a product of the collective musings, however ill-informed, of the masses.
I am sure much of the information on the semantic web will be quite useful and accurate because many heavy users of the Internet are highly educated in general. However, I am also sure there will be areas of the semantic web not so accurate in its results because the contributors will not be as accurate in their understanding of the material they tagged.
Michael Marshall is co-founder of Fortune Interactive and creator of SEMLogic, competitive intelligence software for SEO. He has over 19 years experience in information technology covering a wide range of specialties including: web design, software engineering, e-commerce solutions, artificial intelligence, and Internet marketing.