You know something is up when RDF and the Semantic Web are mentioned on TechCrunch . That’s not one of the ‘new company raises $6m to enable Semantic Web search, but is never heard of again’ kind of mentions. It’s a simple, straightforward, ‘Yahoo! is now starting to index the metadata embedded in our web-pages, and the web is bound to follow’ kind of mentions.
Which is all to the good.
You see, up until now the Semantic Web’s birth has been greatly exaggerated. Almost every month we hear that some new server engine, company or standard is going to ‘enable the Semantic Web’. Many of these pieces of software are incredibly powerful, and some of them are crucial stepping-stones towards our common goal. And of course many of them can be put to extremely profitable use within clearly defined environments.
But it’s difficult to see how we can go much further with the Semantic Web as a ‘big idea’, if humanity’s main publishing medium (the clickable web) is excluded, and our searches are limited to simple strings of text. We need metadata publishing to be as easy as publishing web pages (think blogging), and we need the search engines to drink the Kool Aid.
RDFa and Microformats attempt to address the first issue, by enabling the publication of metadata in web pages, and Yahoo!’s announcement that they are going to index this information and make it searchable (the subject of the TechCrunch article) addresses the second. (Google’s previous announcement about the Social Graph API also goes some way towards this, as described in Google’s Social Graph API, RDFa and the future of web search.)
Of course neither of these steps would have been possible without the vision of the Semantic Web that many have championed until now. But it’s these twin developments that will move us forwards; by blurring the lines between the documents we have on the clickable web, and the metadata in the Semantic Web, we make nascent an unprecedented level of knowledge-sharing.