By Rose Robinson, ingentaconnect product manager at Ingenta

Semantic Web – the basics

Put as simply as possible, the semantic web improves search engine results. Currently, searching the web returns an overload of information that may, or may not be, what a user was looking for. Users will then have to sift through a smorgasbord of results to find the information they actually need, with a splash of serendipity to help them find something relevant to them. On the other hand, searching via the semantic web automatically links relevant data together; providing the reader with a richer picture, a more relevant set of results, and potentially extra contextual information that is useful, even though they didn’t know to ask for it.

For example, if someone is searching for flight times to Hong Kong, ‘Hong Kong’ is also linked to other sets of information, such as weather reports or listings of upcoming events. A semantic search will therefore return flight times to Hong Kong, but also details of the weather for your visit, what is happening in the area and other useful information such as hotel and restaurant suggestions. Having searched for the answer to one question, the semantic web provides the reader with answers to the questions they would have asked, if only they had known to.

The semantic web enables machines to understand the semantics, or meaning, of information strewn across cyberspace. It makes links between sets of data; pulling together pertinent pieces of information from many online sources, such as blogs, external websites and datasets, online journals and e-books. The results of a search can also be sorted and catalogued for the reader’s convenience using a variety if contextual facets such as listing the number of content items associated with a given concept to show, at a glance, the volume of material available. The outcome is a much more effective and helpful experience of online searching – ultimately reducing the amount of time involved in finding relevant content.

The basic components of semantic web are: Triples (or RDF statements), which describe content items such as “Charles Dickens wrote the Pickwick Papers” and allow for relationships to be inferred across a broader data set and answer questions such as “what else did Charles Dickens write?”; Linked Data, a set of best practices for publishing data, which supports interrelationships and emphasizes data interconnections; and RDF, a framework for representing and sharing data on the web. Other related buzzwords include: Ontology, which refers to the machine readable format of relationships between concepts often based on a controlled vocabulary or taxonomy; and Mash-up, which is an application that combines data from multiple sources to create something new. Though quite complex to explain the technicalities of how it works, the advantages of the semantic web are simple: an innovative and much more intuitive end user experience offering business benefits if applied to a real need within a community.

Benefits for publishers

This more efficient end user experience will benefit, and already is benefitting, the publishing industry in several ways. First of all, products become much more discoverable. Using Google, readers may be searching for an authoritative content on a particular subject and not have the time to filter through all the irrelevant results to find the relevant results. More worryingly the reader may find it difficult to easily spot which search results do come from trusted, authoritative sources.

The customer may also be beginning their search from the wrong point (“wrong” in terms of how a publisher’s data is structured versus the reader’s expectation), and can more easily find what they really want through the mesh of data semantic web offers, which offers discovery routes and presents navigation options based on context and topic. Using the semantic web, customers will not only find content more easily, but may be offered relevant content in the search results when searching for something similar (perhaps because of an understanding of synonyms or more detailed analysis of the full-text) . Many ‘potential’ customers browsing sites which aren’t semantically enabled may remain exactly that, whereas by enriching your content, harnessing semantic web technologies to present more intuitive navigation routes through content conversion, rates are likely to vastly improve.

Another major benefit for publishers is that, with a good semantic web infrastructure in place, they are well positioned to quickly roll out new products without having to invest in expensive engineering and staff time. The infrastructure should be flexible enough to allow you to repackage and re-bundle content based on a particular theme, conference or perhaps author – a semantic web foundation that allows you to drive forward your digital strategy.  The semantic web is the next wave of internet, and those adopting it early will gain a competitive edge by being able to differentiate their online products, by offering more than a traditional “print” based experience and ultimately giving the reader what they want.

Update: Ingenta will be attending two semantic web events in New York & London in September, organised by Mediabistro.   They both promise to provide a great overview of the applications of   the semantic web for businesses such as publishers, and we’ve included   more information below. Hope to see you there.

Semantic Web Media Summit
The Semantic Web is here and revolutionizing the media industry! Join us   at Semantic Web Media Summit, September 14 in New York City and learn   how the Semantic Web is changing media production, consumption, and   monetization. The event gathers semantic technology and media experts   including Mike Dunn (Hearst Interactive Media), Rachel Lovinger   (Razorfish), Evan Sandhaus (The New York Times Company), and Mike Petit   (OpenAmplify) who will share how the Semantic Web works and what it is   doing to transform the media business.

Semantic Tech & Business Conference
Semantic Web Technologies are being used today and creating new   opportunities to revamp and build your business. Don’t miss your chance   to get ahead of the competition! The Semantic Tech and Business   Conference will be held in London on 26-27 September 2011 and will take a   look into how companies are successfully integrating semantic   technologies and linked open data into their business plans. With two   tracks over two days, business and technology experts will explain the   inner workings of the Semantic Web and how you can take advantage of it   in your enterprise and web-based systems.