Epik Has Epic Semantic Web Plans For Its Domains and Domainers

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Are you a domainer? More specifically, are you a domainer who’s sitting on a lot of parking sites that aren’t turning the profit they once used to, and for whom the cost proposition of building out each one individually to generate revenue is just plain prohibitive?

Well, a yearish-old company called Epik, which provide a platform and services to help domainers cost-effectively scale their properties by way of “mass-customization,” as well as manage and trade them, is moving semantic web technologies to the front burner to drive more business opportunities to site owners – and revenue opportunities to their customers, too.

“The semantic technologies until now were mostly on the backburner while we got a critical mass of sites up, but now we have a tipping point in terms of the scale of the opportunity,” says John Lawler, Epik SVP of products. “Now we’re going whole hog to make this all semantically enabled.” Through its own domain ownerships and relations with others, the potential is to build a truly federated semantic network, he says.

What’s that mean? The company has about six different platforms – directory, lead generation, video, e-commerce, products and recipes – for nearly automatically building out sites, with a couple more due this quarter. The recipe platform, for example, features 10,000 legitimately acquired recipes so far, with 100,000 expected in the next few months, encoded in the hRecipe microformat, which Google can use for its Rich Snippets enhanced search results. “A domainer wants traffic to the site, and good page ranks, and using semantic technologies is a good way to do that,” says Lawler, as well as to harness some monetization opportunities. For instance, he says you can use the hRecipe format to encode calorie counts, fat levels, and so on, which can then inform the kinds of cookbooks that show up to the viewer in a shopping widget; reviewing a grilled chicken recipe might lead to diet cookbooks rather than, say, those focusing on traditional Southern fried dishes. “So people are more likely to click through to those ads because we used explicit encoding of this information to say this is a diet recipe.”

Epik also is now starting to implement the hProduct microformat for thousands of its own and clients’ product and e-commerce portals, such as harddrives.com, and hCard for sites such as directory listings. It also plans to leverage the GoodRelations ontology for sites’ product, price, and company data.

All its platforms also will get to leverage semantic technologies in other aspects, as well. Epik owns domains, such as questions.com and comments.com, whose services are rolled out in its designs as commenting and query engines. Comments are now being encoded in the hReview and hReview aggregate microformat specs, and in combination with hProduct or hListing microformats, users visiting Epik domain sites “can interact with those product listings and when they type in a comment, that part is in hReview and that is then picked up by a wrapper around hListing or hProduct,” Lawler says.

Semantic Web Can Help Domains Go Viral

What’s perhaps most interesting, though, is how Epik thinks it can deploy semantic web technologies to help domain owners not just with generating traffic, which is partially a function of microformats, but also in building up community and virality. That gets to incenting end users to generate the original content so loved by search engines in the first place. “We can’t possibly build custom original content for many tens of thousands of sites – it’s not scalable,” says Lawler.

Original content won’t succeed in continually driving traffic to the site unless it’s good, of course, nor will it help in other monetization efforts such as affiliate book sales. Epik believes that if it can help create content experts whose opinion is valued and trusted, that could be good for the sites that use such content, and good for the content creator. Here’s where its work on a beta domain, Identity.net, comes into play, whose goal it is to help individuals build a reputation on the Internet tied to their verifiable identity. “If you could merge ID with reputation you could do some interesting things that leverage semantic technologies,” Lawler says. “With semantic technologies you can begin to slice and dice information more granularly.”

So, Epik is planning to roll out reputational technologies that use ontologies that are built out to inform a more granular approach to reputation – for instance, a canonical ontology for cuisines that has as its children not just regional and ethnic cuisines but subcategories within those cuisines, such as Chinese/Szechuan or Chinese/Cantonese. “If I, as an end user, write a lot of articles about the proper use of Szechuan pepper corns and people like and retweet them, that is a good way of building up a high score on Szechuan cooking. But that cooking is very different from Cantonese,” Lawler explains. “So as I build a reputation for that child in the hierarchy – Szechuan is a type of Chinese that is a type of Asian that is a type of cooking – I would build reputational scores, or pluses. I’d get more pluses at the Szechuan level, some at Chinese, maybe fewer at cooking in general because, while I have high reputational scores in Szechuan cooking that doesn’t mean I know anything about Italian cooking…. So that all informs my generalized cooking reputation, but if you take these ontologies that are nice hierarchies of concepts and things that people have expertise about, you can use that to inform the structure of a reputation.”

User-generated articles on Szechuan cooking posted to one Epik site can be syndicated automatically, and so scalably, to other domains using ontological classifications. For instance, the article might originally have appeared on a site called Szechuancooking.com, but knowing that that site belongs to categories including cooking, Chinese, and spicy food means makes it easily recyclable. The question is, should it be repurposed? “It may stink or be off-point,” says Lawler. “How will we know? We will know because of the author’s reputation. if someone who has a high reputation wrote it, based on that we can automatically syndicate this article – because we know he is an expert in this area presumptively his stuff is worth syndicating.”

Epik thinks the appeal to people’s egos – creating a reputation as an expert in an area that follows them around the entire Internet – can be one factor in driving user-generated content. The other is more tangible: Money. If a great article gets a lot of click-throughs, and so eyeballs to the ads surrounding it, the author can get a cut of the revenue generated by that. “And if his reputation is high enough that that article gets syndicated, that can essentially triple or quadruple the money he might see from the article,” says Lawler. “The idea is to create a financial incentive to start writing content on Epik networks, and both for ego and financial reasons for those writers to do some care and feeding of their reputation that is associated with their identity.”

Epik is targeting the July timeframe for its efforts around reputation and identity to become public. But with the hRecipe work done and hProduct and other related microformats underway, Lawler expects that by the end of the second quarter at latest that Epik “will have one of the larger semantic networks out there in terms of encoded data across a wide variety of types of sites. Working with domainers, we have a large sandbox with which to apply these technologies.”

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