Yahoo! has! announced! support! for! semantic! web! standards!

Well, this blog has remained dormant for far too long as I got distracted by the “real world” (i.e. papers, presentations and grant proposals – not the real real world) after christmas.

But I can’t think of a better way to start blogging again than to report that Yahoo! has just announced their support of semantic web technologies. To quote from their search blog:

The Data Web in Action
While there has been remarkable progress made toward understanding the semantics of web content, the benefits of a data web have not reached the mainstream consumer. Without a killer semantic web app for consumers, site owners have been reluctant to support standards like RDF, or even microformats. We believe that app can be web search.

By supporting semantic web standards, Yahoo! Search and site owners can bring a far richer and more useful search experience to consumers. For example, by marking up its profile pages with microformats, LinkedIn can allow Yahoo! Search and others to understand the semantic content and the relationships of the many components of its site. With a richer understanding of LinkedIn’s structured data included in our index, we will be able to present users with more compelling and useful search results for their site. The benefit to LinkedIn is, of course, increased traffic quality and quantity from sites like Yahoo! Search that utilize its structured data.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing more detailed specifications that will describe our support of semantic web standards. Initially, we plan to support a number of microformats, including hCard, hCalendar, hReview, hAtom, and XFN. Yahoo! Search will work with the web community to evolve the vocabulary framework for embedding structured data. For starters, we plan to support vocabulary components from Dublin Core, Creative Commons, FOAF, GeoRSS, MediaRSS, and others based on feedback. And, we will support RDFa and eRDF markup to embed these into existing HTML pages. Finally, we are announcing support for the OpenSearch specification, with extensions for structured queries to deep web data sources.

We believe that our open approach will let each of these formats evolve within their own passionate communities, while providing the necessary incentive to site owners (increased traffic from search) for more widespread adoption. Site owners interested in learning more about the open search platform can sign up here.

I have had many discussions with people over the past year or so concerning the value of the semantic web approach and some of the people I talked to have been very vocal sceptics. However, the results of some of our work in Cambridge, together with the fact that no matter where I look, the semantic web is becoming more prominent, have convinced me that we are doing the right thing. It was pleasing to see that the Semantikers were out in force recently even at events such as CeBit which has just ended. Twine seems to be inching towards a public beta now and the first reviews of the closed beta are being written even if they are mixed at the moment. Reuters recently released Calais as a web service, which uses natural language processing to identify people, places, organizations and facts and makes the metadata available as RDF constructs. So despite all the skepticism, semantic web products are starting to be shipped and even the mainstream media are picking up the idea of the semantic web with the usual insouciance, but nevertheless, it seems to be judged newsworthy. Academic efforts are coming to fruition too.

Maybe I am gushing a little now. But it seems to me, that Yahoo now lending its support could be a significant step forward for all of us. And sometimes it is just nice to know that one is doing the right thing.

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