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Drupal May Be The First Mainstream Semantic Web Winner

By   /  April 2, 2010  /  No Comments

drupal logo.png Drupal 7 has native support for RDFa. That is likely to make Drupal the top choice for sites that want to use semantic technology to promote their sites. That in turn may spur the creation of more semantic web services. This virtuous circle may be just what the semantic web needs to break out of its “worthy but a bit too academic” phase into something more commercially mainstream.

This post gives some background on why RDFa is important, the state of RDFa support in Drupal, how other CMS will add RDFa support and how this can play out for the overall semantic web ecosystem.

Beyond Blogging

For a long time, WordPress has been the obvious choice for blog-centric sites. Sure they have some competition, notably from Movable Type, but WordPress has both thought-leadership and market leadership, if blogging is the core function of your site.

But if you want blogging as one part of a total site, WordPress no longer looks so compelling and Drupal is rising as an alternative. For a long time, Drupal was too techie. The learning curve to get started was too steep. Drupal is addressing that. But that alone would only be catch-up.

This blog by Allen Stern at Center Networks (a blog-centric site) gives a balanced view of Drupal vs WordPress. He came down to a WordPress decision. He explains why:

“When Matt Mullenweg provided a demo of WordPress 2.7 last year in NYC, I immediately fell in love with the administration control panel. The admin panel has been one of my biggest frustrations with Drupal. The Drupal admin feels like it was developed by a developer while the WordPress admin feels like it was developed by an end-user.”

That makes sense for a blogger like Allen Stern. He has to manage the tech in spare moments while he is not blogging. Even after improvements by Drupal, WordPress probably still wins the ease of admin game.

This post was written by Allen Stern on April 20th, 2009.

22 days later on May 12, 2009, Google announced Rich Snippets. This was a loud cat landing on the webmaster pigeons!

RDFa And The SEO $$$ In Rich Snippets

All the Semantic Web needs is a bit of short-term financial motivation.

That motivation arrived on May 12th, 2009 when Google announced Rich Snippets:

“Rich Snippets give users convenient summary information about their search results at a glance. We are currently supporting data about reviews and people. When searching for a product or service, users can easily see reviews and ratings, and when searching for a person, they’ll get help distinguishing between people with the same name. It’s a simple change to the display of search results, yet our experiments have shown that users find the new data valuable — if they see useful and relevant information from the page, they are more likely to click through. Now we’re beginning the process of opening up this successful experiment so that more websites can participate. As a webmaster, you can help by annotating your pages with structured data in a standard format.

To display Rich Snippets, Google looks for markup formats (microformats and RDFa) that you can easily add to your own web pages.”

To put it in really simple terms: rich snippets help you to be found by Google. That makes site administrators and SEO mavens get up to speed on RDFa.

Primer On RDFa

The best starting point for all things RDFa is a site called RDFa.info.

Or you can go directly to the RDFa primer at the W3.org site.

Primer On Drupal 7 And RDFa Support

The Drupal community has been working on RDFa since well before Google announced Rich Snippets. Which meant that they quickly understood the wonderful opportunity they had been given as Dries Buytart explained in a blog post titled “Structured data is the new search engine optimization“.

“It is very hard for search engines to understand the structure and semantics of data embedded in an HTML page. To create these snippets, Google needs the help of hundreds of thousands of webmasters around the world, and by extension, content management systems like Drupal, Joomla!, and others. Specifically, Google is asking all of us to surface structured data to their crawlers by marking up our HTML with RDFa and Microformats. When Google announced Rich Snippets this week, they really announced support for RDFa and Microformats, and the semantic web in general. This is big.”

This 4 minute video is the most accessible way to understand how to use RDFa within Drupal:

RDFa As The Gateway Drug To RDF

RDFa is the gateway drug to the semantic web and Drupal’s support enables you to “get it now”. Ok, enough with that analogy, we don’t want to imply anything bad about the fine folks working on Drupal!

This post on CMSWire, shows how RDFa is being introduced to Webmasters.

This was written nearly 2 months before Google announced Rich Snippets. Even without Rich Snippets, the proposition was clear. It is even clearer now.

Today, very few sites take advantage of Rich Snippets. That will change when RDFa gets built into mainstream CMS, starting with Drupal.

When Will WordPress & Other CMS Support RDFa?

Even though we are nearly 12 months after Google’s Rich Snippets announcement and Drupal developers had been working on RDFa long before that, the fully baked Drupal 7 cake is only just now coming out of the oven. So we will only now see the real impact.

If it has taken this long to get RDFa into a production release for Drupal, what is happening with sites that are further behind the curve?

There is some movement towards a plug-in for WordPress, but that is not complete yet, and native support is better than plug-in. So Drupal is ahead on this front.

WordPress will catch up. Their users will demand this. So WordPress and all other mainstream CMS will support RDFa in future. Which is good news for the Semantic Web.

This Joomla forum indicates that RDFa support is not coming soon and one can sense some frustration from the Joomla community. This commenter sums up the issue nicely:

“There is one potential problem that many are not seeing. This has the potential to eliminate the “Search Engine Optimization” industry in the coming years. RDFa is just a tool that “web developers” should be including for their clients from this point forward. While those who know about it have an advantage, it is a drastic step in leveling the playing field. Next thing you know, Google and others will put out documents on how to properly promote your website and business online.

Implications Of RDFa As Easy As Tagging

Here we depart the safety of history and wipe the muck off the crystal ball to try and guess how this might play out:

1. Rich Snippets will popularize RDFa and introduce the broad community of webmasters to semantic web concepts.

2. Drupal will win mindshare and will get the start-ups that are making their CMS decision now.

3. WordPress, Joomla, Movable Type and other CMS will announce support for RDFa during 2010 raising the profile of semantic web in the mainstream.

4. This will give a further boost to Drupal as the CMS leader in this area. Drupal developers and partners will capitalize on this by more plug-ins and native support for semantic web.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you tried RDFa in Drupal? Do you know of other CMS with RDFa support? Is Rich Snippets a big deal?

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