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BLOG: The brains behind smarter search

Seth Grimes | April 7, 2011
How to put the semantic Web to work here and now

Semantic technology is hot. It's the brains behind smarter search, a means of taming the information explosion by finding meaning in online and enterprise information sources. Semantics is a path to making information findable, to automating document processing, to turning text into data to facilitate web mining, customer engagement, and social-media analytics. Yet not every technology under the semantics umbrella is here and now, delivering enterprise value. The Semantic Web-a vision of agent-bots that'll automatically book your travel itinerary and the like-remains more dream than reality.

Other semantic technologies are usable today:

- Semantic navigation speeds website visitors to the information they seek, whether product descriptions, support options or online content.

- Semantic search helps users search using concepts, perform similarity searches and classify results.

- Semantic advertising matches promotions to web-page content and "intent signals" mined from Web user behavior.

-  Semantic content enrichment adds value to online information by tagging topics and providing context-sensitive links.

- With the right software tools and services, you and your organisation can benefit today from the power of semantic computing.

Semantics and Enterprise Business Challenges

Semantic capabilities are already creeping into Web search engines and enterprise information-access tools alike. See for yourself-although you probably have already if you've ever sent a query like "map chicago" to Google or Bing. You get back a map of Chicago, Illinois, and not just a list of documents that contain the two words that make up your search. The search engines recognise "map chicago" as an information request given the co-occurrence of two words associated with geography, "map" and a particular geographic area. Bing will also provide a list of related searches, for instance, and Google will allow you to restrict your search to documents published in a particular time range by using descriptive information called "metadata" that is associated with indexed pages.

These engines are great, but they're not much help with information that resides in your organisation's own databases and operational systems, whether Web-facing or accessible only to internal users. The ranking algorithms aren't designed for enterprise priorities, the crawlers don't reach into restricted-access systems and the interfaces don't suit business workflows well. General-purpose tools aren't top performers for focused business tasks such as supporting online storefronts and searching media sites. Businesses have highly individualised metadata-ways of describing their products and services-and operate in specialised contexts. Search for "chicago" and rather than a map, you'll see '70s and '80s record albums and copies of the 2003 movie starring Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere, with the option of narrowing down results according to departments including Music, Books, and Movies & TV, an example of "faceted search".


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