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Last Updated: Friday, 14 March 2008, 15:01 GMT
Yahoo makes semantic search shift
Yahoo billboard, Getty
Yahoo's move could help it compete with arch-rival Google

Yahoo has announced its adoption of some of the key standards of the "semantic web".

The technology is widely seen as the next step for the world wide web and it involves a much richer understanding of the masses of data placed online.

The company said it would start to include some semantic web identifiers when indexing the web for Yahoo search.

The move could mean a big boost for semantic web technologies which have struggled to win a big audience.

Better results

At the moment most search engines, particularly Google, identify relevance for a particular topic using the interconnections between sites as much as they do the text on any single page.

The semantic web promises to change this because it helps to capture the meaning of data on a page and so give machines classifying or searching the web the capability to work out its relevance to a particular topic.

In an entry on Yahoo's blog, Amit Kumar, director of product management for the company's search site, said it was now starting to back key semantic web standards.

Mr Kumar said despite "remarkable progress" being made on how to classify meaning on webpages, the benefits of this work have not been felt by the average web user.

What was lacking, he added, was a compelling reason or "killer app" to use the semantic web technology.

"We believe that app can be web search," he wrote.

Professor Stefan Decker, a director of the Digital Enterprise Research Institute at the National University of Ireland and a member of the scientific council of the Web Science Research Initiative, said Yahoo had recognised that the semantic web was catching on.

Google's New York offices, AP
The semantic web could mean a challenge for Google
Like the early days of the web, he said, many people were now tagging data with the labels and identifiers demanded by semantic web technology.

These tags are similar in concept to the familiar HTML labels that help format text and other data on webpages.

Yahoo had realised that there was now enough to index to back up their search engine.

In a similar vein by starting to include the tags and descriptors defined by semantic web standards into its search index, web users suddenly have better reasons to use them.

Dr Decker said the advent of the semantic web promised to make a search much more productive.

Instead of returning a long list of links, a semantic web search engine would be able to understand what type of object, such as a person, was being sought and aggregate information around that

Dr Decker said the promise of the semantic web had spurred visionaries such as Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart and Tim Berners-Lee.

Only now, he said, was the technology being put in place to fulfil that vision.

Before now, proposing such as thing was like "trying to build a jet plane when the world only had the technology for bicycles."

"It'll mean a quantum leap in productivity and effectiveness," he said.

Professor Wendy Hall from the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton and a director of the Web Research Science Initiative, said, "With the semantic web we're at the place the web was in 1992."

She added that the move to the semantic web could pose challenges for established companies such as Google which have grown on the back of indexing documents rather than objects.

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