The Evolution of Semantic Technology In Publishing

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“The idea of the Big S Semantic Web seems to have fallen off by the wayside in publishing as people are just trying to structure their data,” says Barbara McGlamery, taxonomist at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

McGlamery, who will be presenting a case study comparing her experiences in two publishing houses that took opposite approaches to the semantic web at the SemTech conference in NYC this month, says that the path most publishers are on now “hardly seems like the same beast” as the one she formerly knew. A few years back, the focus was on RDF, OWL, full-blown ontologies and inferencing engines, whereas today “it’s and we’re using microdata, not even RDFa.”

In her previous role, McGlamery worked the Semantic Web for internal use, to drive functionality on the publisher’s forward-facing web sites. This was before people were thinking about semantic search, and the Linked Data movement was just starting to surface more widely. The project was successful in some ways, and in fact the work lives today, mostly for use as a controlled vocabulary tool. But, as she explains, “it was a lot of power for not a lot of semantic usage. Then we did attempt to use it more fully, which had mixed results. They went through all the stages of grief with this project, and even came to acceptance.” Among the issues that beset the effort was that it was a little hard to use, there being a lot of problems with queries and getting data onto the page in an efficient and speedy manner.

Now, at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the focus is on optimizing for semantic search for a businss case. And, as Martha might say, it’s a good thing. Lifestyle-oriented publications aren’t as familiar with as other magazines, especially those that are part of a larger publishing company, she notes. Still, “everyone sees great promise in search and the benefits of having structured data that search engines can do interesting things with,” she says.

The effort at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia got underway about a year ago, starting with recipes, and now proceeding apace, content type by content type. Her presentation will include a discussion of what she has learned from the recipe experience, and how it may impact the expansion of the microdata schema to the site as a whole. “We are going through a redesign and so we’re thinking more globally in general, more strategically and across the entire site,” she says. “We are thinking about the kinds of experiences we can offer,…about how else to exploit the benefits” of structured data.

Since the project got underway, McGlamery reports that traffic has increased and there’s greater engagement on the site. “It makes Martha happier. She likes to see her recipes prominent in external searches, and it’s nice to see how the structured data helps with that.”

You can register for the Semantic Technology and Business conference here.

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