timothy falconer's semantic weblog
Big Fractal Tangle

angela talk, day four

(continued imaginary conversation between Angela Tesoro and Timothy Falconer, sitting with a laptop at their local WiFi equipped bookshop)

Angela: Since yesterday, I’ve been doing “page source” on a bunch of web pages like you showed me. Sure enough, lots of them have these meta keywords. I even gave some thought to our keywords and had our webmaster change them after looking at some competitor websites.

Timothy: Meta keywords are just a small example of where we’re headed with the Semantic Web. They’re baby steps at best. To do better, we need to annotate stuff using shared metadata vocabularies.

Angela: Explain.

Timothy: Let me show you. Open up your home page again.

Angela: I really gotta update this thing. I never look at it.

Timothy: Let’s see. There’s a picture of you, and your name, and your phone, and your email, and a bio which talks about the companies you’re connected with, where you went to school, and so on. Now, if a search engine, or some other software, wanted to learn what college you went to, it wouldn’t be able to do it easily because it’d have to interpret your bio, which is much easier for a human to do than a computer program. Imagine if someone wanted to find all women CEOs who went to small liberal arts colleges. With the current Web, this would be a very difficult task.

Angela: But not if my home page said, “This thing is a college.”

Timothy: Right, if we annotated your homepage with some metadata, using a shared vocabulary, the search engines could be smarter about it.

Angela: Show me.

Timothy: Okay, here’s an example of some real Semantic Web metadata, written in a format called RDF, using a shared vocabulary called FOAF. It describes someone named Mark Pilgrim. Skip past the “bc” stuff and see if you can tell me what it means.

Angela: Uh, okay. There’s his name, and he’s an ISTP. That’s cool. That looks like his email address, and his homepage, and his work homepage. He works in DC and he went to school in Indiana. Looks like there’s some images or something and he’s interested in Macs and Zen Buddhism. It shows what projects he’s worked on, and … now this is cool … it lists the people he knows.

Timothy: Yeah, that’s a big part of it, in fact it’s why they call it FOAF, which means Friend-Of-A-Friend. It’s a way of linking people together so computers can do lots of nifty stuff.

Angela: So you’re saying I can ask for all the people who went to Earlham College who like Macintoshes and Zen Buddhism?

Timothy: Something like that. You can also browse interpersonal relationships, like board members of large corporations. Click the green circles to see who they’re connected to. The fatter the cat, the more companies they’re connected to.

Angela: Oh, this is just too cool. Let me play for a while.

Timothy: I gotta run anyway. See you tomorrow.

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