Just when you thought it was safe to navigate the social media seas of the Web, along comes the next big wave. Dubbed Web 3.0 or the Semantic Web, these ideas promise new ways to create, massage, analyze, and share data. At the recent Web 3.0 Conference in New York City, I got a taste of what’s to come and thought about how some of these ideas might be useful to the design engineering community.
During his opening keynote, Tom Tague f rom Thompson Reuters explained how a new initiative called Open Calais can help companies enhance the value of their Web sites. I found his talk particularly interesting since Electronic Design is in the midst of revamping its Web site, and one of our goals is to make our content more accessible to you, our readers.
This is easy enough to do for new content that we generate on a daily basis, since we can use the latest techniques to make it more easily searchable. But the task is enormously more difficult for the thousands of articles we’ve already posted.
The OpenCalais Web service automatically enhances content with rich semantic metadata. Calais uses natural language processing, machine learning, and other methods to analyze documents and find the entities within them, such as people and companies.
But Calais goes well beyond classic entity identification and returns the facts and events in the text as well. This could make it easy for you to search, for example, one of Bill Wong’s interviews at the Embedded Systems Conference. The “Open” in Calais means that this Web service is free for both commercial and non-commercial use. A quick overview of Calais can be found at www.opencalais.com/about.
ANZO FOR EXCEL
At a talk entitled “Building 21st Century Businesses Around the New Graph Structure of Information,” Cambridge Semantics CEO Michael Cataldo introduced a product called Anzo for Excel. Cataldo explained that this program is an exceptionally powerful tool for gaining access to, sharing, and managing data that might otherwise be locked away in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
If you consider an individual spreadsheet to be an application with its own database and data structure, Anzo for Excel’s job in a nutshell is to make the data from thousands of spreadsheets accessible and consumable by multiple users and applications.
The program is a plug-in that appears seamlessly within Excel. Users can associate data in the spreadsheet with data definitions they have created. The data can then be shared and reused in other spreadsheets, on the Web, and in relational databases. For more information, point your browser to www.cambridgesemantics.com/products/anzo_for_excel.
Peter Sweeney, Founder & CTO of Primal Fusion, talked about his company’s semantic technology platform. Dubbed the world’s first consumer “thought networking” service, it provides a new way to experience the Internet without getting mired down with too much information.
Consumers will be able to collect and organize their thoughts about a subject and save them in “thought networks” of machine-readable semantic data. Computers can then understand and act upon this data in numerous ways, such as reorganizing the Web in response to our thoughts about a subject.
Although Primal Fusion is focused on consumers, I thought the company could help design engineers, who are consumers in a sense when they are searching for information such as datasheets and app notes. I asked Sweeney about this, and he seemed to be open to the suggestion. More information can be found at Primal Fusion’s Web site, www.primalfusion.com.
The idea of a “semantic Web” has been around for many years now. In fact, Tim Berners-Lee talked about it back in 2004 at MIT’s Emerging Technology Conference (mitworld.mit.edu/video/236). But five years later, it seems that the ideas are now developing momentum in the marketplace.
One example is Rich Snippets, recently announced by Google. A “snippet” is a sample of the content of a Web page. Together, these snippets make up the familiar results of a Google search. Rich Snippets are a new presentation that applies Google’s algorithms to highlight structured data embedded in Web pages.
To display Rich Snippets, Google looks for markup formats, such as microformats and RDFa, that can be added to Web pages. While Web users don’t need to know anything about these formats, they are expected to make the results of a typical Web search a lot more useful. To find out more about Rich Snippets, check out googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/05/introducing-rich-snippets.html.