We’ve all struggled to find stuff on the web if we don’t have a precise name for it. That’s all about to change, according to blinkx founder Suranga Chandratillake.
EN: Who are you and why should we listen to you?
SC: After a stint as the US CTO of Autonomy (the FTSE 100 software company), a few of us spun out a new company, blinkx - the world’s largest video search engine. Since 2005 our technology has trawled the entire web, hunting out every single video on every single site we can find, subjecting it to a battery of “deep-indexing” technologies. This has allowed us to create a vast index of these videos (35 million hours in all).
Even collating a relatively narrowly defined part of the internet - web video - has proven to be a scaling nightmare requiring Ph-D trained engineers and thousands of computers toiling for endless hours, so I consider myself and our team to be qualified on the problem of helping us all navigate the web more efficiently.
EN: What’s this semantic web idea all about then?
SC: In a few short years the web has become home to more details on more topics than any previous locus of information in history but, unless you can precisely describe what you’re looking for, it can be awfully hard to find that needle amongst all the hay.
At its core, the semantic web is about solving the problem by bringing greater meaning to the web we already have.
When it comes to search, the web is essentially syntactic. If you know the name of something, it’s usually not too difficult to find it using a search engine. But it becomes much harder if you don’t know the name of the thing you are searching for and as a result have to use a description.
In its purest form semantics is about the meaning of what is being said. It is that human ability to interpret sentence construction and make links between content that goes beyond simple word identification.
The semantic web will allow computers to work together, unlock the meaning of data, make decisions about the content and push relevant information to you. It is about taking dry, unconnected information and giving it life by understanding its meaning, its context and its place in the world.
EN: So, how does it work?
SC: The semantic web is about getting computers to understand and interpret the content of the information they display from the web. Today the early steps are being achieved through structuring online data by creating metadata (data about data)that describes the meaning of the original data.
Developing this extra layer of categorisation behind the scenes means things will be described in a way that computers can understand, and that the relationship between things will also be understood.
The thinking is that the semantic web will provide a much more intuitive web experience. Intelligent applications will serve you the information you need to know based on their understanding of you derived from everything the app knows about you - your past queries, your interests, the contest of your past interactions, etc.
EN: What opportunities does it create for entrepreneurs?
SC: Entrepreneurs are nothing if not resourceful - forever spying ways to use stuff that’s out there so they can achieve what they need to without having to send too long or too much doing it.
As a result, often without knowing, many entrepreneurs already benefit from the nascent forms of the semantic web. If you’re an independent estate agent your website can automatically link to a Google Map showing the locations of schools near each property you’re selling because you have a post code. Google Maps understands source codes and the government’s schools database includes address information. You just make a couple of links and the semantic web pulls everything else together.
If you advertise for customers, newer advertising systems will allow you to target those customers based not just on demographics but also things like past behaviour that you think might be typical of someone who will like your product.
Finally, the semantic web will help with all the research (market, competitor, product, etc) that every entrepreneur has to go through.