Unintentionally Blank

Phil Nash on the Internet, Web Standards and Accessibility

The Year Of Microformats - Yahoo! To Search The Semantic Web

Mar 13, 2008

by Phil Nash

Yahoo! announced today that Yahoo! Search is to support semantic web standards to enhance their search. This is fantastic news for anyone interested in semantic technologies as well as the general public. Why? Because Yahoo! Search is big enough to be the tipping point, the breakthrough point for semantics on the web.

The Problems That Previously Faced Semantic Technology

The Microformats Symbol

There are a number of ways of implementing semantics on a web site, from the original methods defined by the W3C using RDF and OWL to microformats, built on (X)HTML, technology we already have and use. The issue is that there seems no real reason for anyone to use these standards; sure, marking up content so that machines can understand it is all very well, but what's the use if there are no machines reading it?

Up until today only a few technologies supported certain standards, the Operator extension for Firefox supports microformats, as will Firefox 3 when it is released, but none of these are big enough or important enough for the mainstream. Adding semantics to a website is a lot of hard work if no-one is around to use it.

Time For The Big Guns

This is why Yahoo!'s announcement is so big. Now there are machines reading that data and using it and enriching the web with it, do you, as a developer or site owner, want to miss out on that? Yahoo!'s search is to use microformats initially, to improve their understanding of the data to return more relevant results (and, from the looks of their example with LinkedIn add more detail to their search results). So, will other search engines, I'm looking at Google and Microsoft here, want to miss out on the wealth of data that they aren't collecting and Yahoo! is?

Now it will be beneficial for developers to include microformats and other semantic data as Yahoo! is reading and using it. It will be beneficial for other search engines to get in on the act, as they don't want to lose market share to a more relevant Yahoo!. Furthermore, it will then be even more beneficial for developers to include the information as everyone watches what Google is doing! Then, with the wealth of semantic data going around, startups and other small web companies will be able to leverage the data for their own uses producing a whole new wave of technologies: web 3.0 anybody?

The Semantic Web Is Coming And Everyone Wins

What could be better, a reason to include semantic technologies in your site, better search results, new, intelligent services? I can only say thank you to Yahoo! for supporting this and giving it the much needed boost.

Unintentionally Blank is Phil Nash's thoughts on web development from 2006-2008. Any code or opinions may be out of date.