Semantic search & social research is affecting your business

In a web sense semantic means nothing more than getting machines talking to one another and understanding what is being ‘said’, which when applied to ecommerce gives us efficiencies and options that lead to (among other things) improved security and cost savings or/and better profits.  In other words. lots of improvements in lots of places but many just see or focus on the benefits to search and being found in search engines (SEO).

There’s lots of technical stuff and strange language linked with the ongoing research and development behind and underpinning ‘semantic’ technologies. You’ll obviously want to see what they can do for you (see the link near the foot of the this article) but a quick jargon free perspective to give you a slightly better understanding won’t hurt.

Web semantics in part has it’s roots in the quest for artificial intelligence.  Science has effectively been teaching computers to understand things and the meaning of things. And to be fair science is still trying to get it right.  But we have come a long long way though in 40 odd years.  Even in just the last three.

What classes as semantic or ecommerce research?

For one example, not so long ago, back in April, artificial intelligence researchers working on learning theory were trying to teach computers about regret. They

“think that by teaching computers to reduce regret, they would essentially be teaching them to evaluate all the relevant variables surrounding an outcome in advance. This would allow them to do things more efficiently …
Algorithms that can learn in real time and produce results with the least “regret”…”

What’s that got to do with search and commerce?

Many people with an online business presence don’t give a second thought to how things are stored and found on the web, they just ‘know’ their business needs to be found on Google and preferably on the first page, at the top.

Business owners might associate with the word ‘algorithms’ or updates as something that affects their search rankings or like-ability in search results pages. Some may even associate them with mobile and social networks, social media or all of the other very broad customer communication channels in general. Just think all things digital, getting data from A to B, how can it be filtered and by who?

Will current SEO marketing practices suffer search regret soon?
Can smart thinking solve the being found problem or ease the blow?

In this video Google talk about some of the improvements to its search algorithm.  Read on after watching for something they don’t tell you.

It may have seemed obscure at first, reading about ‘teaching computers regret’ while trying to explain how ‘semantic technologies‘ will help your business.  Consider then just for a moment another headline back in April (2011);

Working with funding from Google. Tel Aviv University hope to make computers understand what it’s like to pursue an outcome only to be disappointed

That headline came from Programming Regret for Google .  (How popular was that news item? as far as I can see that page was only bookmarked in delicious 3 times – not a great indicator I know but all will become clear)

Search, like semantic development, changes daily – how often may surprise you (if you didn’t watch the video above).  At the same time in April as the press release above, Scott Huffman and Amit Singhal of Google were interviewed by Glenn Chapman (AFP), there may be some posturing in the interview but a couple of bites are

“At any given time, some percentage of our users is actually seeing experiments,”

Said Huffman.

while Singhal said

“Google’s search is tweaked, on average, twice in a working day.” “We just do it in small steps that go unnoticed.”

What I found intriguing was there was no mention of the regret algorithm in that “Google hones search edge to stay sharp“ interview.  In some respects with hindsight the interview plate had potatoes but no meat.  Incidentally  there were almost 200% more (8) Delicious bookmarks for the AFP Google interview than the ‘real news’ that day.

So about now a good question might be to ask “what would Google want you (or it) to regret?”

A better question might be

“What am I doing right already and what will I want (or need) to change soon?”

These search and find algorithms or filters that get used for displaying search results will have origins in the same realm as Natural Language Processing or NLP.  Along side remember,  if you work with The Web rather than trying to beat the search engines everyone benefits.

Just as there are new search algorithms there are also new web and business disciplines that have emerged and are evolving at a rapid pace because they are so effective at getting results in today’s web of data.   Based on years of computational research and thinking these disciplines will or already have paths or routes of say least resistance or best effect mapped into a ‘semantic algorithm‘.  No, this doesn’t mean the computers can’t do it all for you but you can make it simpler, better and more efficient for yourself and your business.

Here’s the link I mentioned earlier – The team over at Network Empire have pulled the pieces together, there is a smarter semantic way of building a web presence that works the web for you. You’ll find the answers you’ve been looking for (and more) on the inside.

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Long Live The Web of Linked Data

We are all dependent on the right data getting to the right place at the right time.  There can’t be a person on the planet who hasn’t been affected by computers.

The internet as we know it and the things we can do with it (or on it) are only limited by the imagination (and funding).  People will still want to consume data, people will still need services, want to buy or sell things and be entertained.  People want to feel safe.  People like to trust and trust is something that is built.

To try and help you understand the bigger picture you need to think of the internet and the web as different things.  For a moment of light relief  to explain how this change is starting to help one generation  ‘Semantic Web vs Web 20‘ has to be seen.  (what was Web 0.1 ? then)

The Internet is what we’ve had the Web is what comes next.

It comes as a shock to most to find out that the internet isn’t as clever as they thought it was.  Everyone assumed that because all of these pages linked to other pages they liked or they could watch videos on, or read etc. etc. that this was the ‘intelligence‘ of computers or programs.   What we had was what people created for us to use based on what they had available 20 years ago.

In laymans terms “20 years in to a 50 year plan of development, computers can finally understand things”.  Read in: now watch what you can do help make it better.

Many, in all walks of life , forget that the web was invented by someone. His name is Tim Berners-Lee and the reason we have the web and it’s guiding principles need to be understood by everyone who uses it.  The web embraces us all and reading recent comments on the 20th birthday of the web

The Web is critical not merely to the digital revolution but to our continued prosperity—and even our liberty. Like democracy itself, it needs defending

highlighted facts and concerns we all share, Long Live The Web makes compelling reading. As he says “”Why should you care? Because the Web is yours.”

Look at it from their map of the world.

The public and private sector share the same goals and networks.  If everyone is heading down the same technology improvement path isn’t it great to know that all computers can speak a common language.  Now we know that, we can start asking for things and contributing to it’s improvement.

With the end line “invest your way out“, the comments of Craig Barrett are a wonderful insight into business and how our lives and our existence are shaped by the cogs of the investment wheel. “Technology Only Moves Forward” was part of a day of talks when the Irish Technology Leadership Group visited Ireland last year.

There are some great key takeaways in pointing the way forward by Tom Murphy.  The two final quotes well worth taking on board.

It’s always been about making life better

There has always been discussion and development and it has to an extent been hindered by what to call it, the technology. Jamie Forrest says in ‘The Next Phase is Not Web 3.0’ that it is all about context that we won’t call it web 3.0.

Talk to the man on the street about The Semantic Web and eyes glaze over.  To be fair Where the semantic web stumbled, linked data will succeed is excellent but even linked data isn’t understood throughout the supply chain. What can’t be argued is

Linked data is, at last, bringing the discussion around to the user. The consumer “end” trumps the semantic “means.”

What do people need?

Understanding.  As a rough guess I’d say 99.9% of the world population don’t have a clue about the possibilities of what the web can do for them now that ‘computers’ can ‘understand’ ‘things’.  If it helps to create a mental time line of Win3.1, 95 & 98, XP, Vista, 7  so they can relate to ongoing improvements,  it’s a good place to start.

Add to that an image of the earliest telephone and compare to what they have in their hand today.

To make all of this existing infrastructure work and cope with increase in demand means everyone follows the same basic open standards which are free to use, anyone can contribute to a common improvement.  With all sectors inventing the same wheel rolling down the same path using the same data for the benefit of people, people are concerned about security.


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My secret life as a beta tester.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve done everything at least once.  Just not in the right order and not on the same project.

I’ve loved watching how web technology has progressed.  Since the middle of the 1990’s when I first dipped my toe in to the internet I’ve been called a web site designer, I’ve set up servers and nameservers, hosted sites, controlled networks and had to dabble with data transit.  I’ve built sites, improved sites, promoted and marketed sites, monitored, analysed, tweaked and generally been through the whole process of web commerce through the supply chain.

I’ve even tried to lean to write succulent copy, video editing for promotion and laughed lots of times at the pitch promises of so called push button solutions. It has to be said though that I’m happiest when I’m doing my initial business intelligence research or beta testing the software that makes it all work. You’ve been at the bleeding edge too right?

On my next post grab yourself a coffee, it’s not often I post but now I’m ready to add something new to the web – You see on re-reading I had a dilemma – was I saying too much in one post?
I wanted to talk about something but by not explaining the general background of where some knowledge and reasoning comes from the importance of what I’m beta testing may be overlooked by those who could benefit most from it.  Small businesses that want to compete and prosper online.  In any marketplace, at any level, with almost any budget.*

So before finishing that post off I went and made myself a coffee just so I could be sure it didn’t take longer to read than it takes to have a drink during a well deserved break and be worth the read.  Basically I had this thought that I had to give you an idea of the history (as I experienced it) that has helped you to find and read this sentence because it will then help you make a lot more sense of the step change in machine readable data technology that is beginning to impact commerce efficiency and effectiveness (Your business and the way you live.) I’m going to make a few tweaks because you can either be flattened by this change or get it right first time. In Web development cycles something that has been called the web of linked data or semantic web started rolling forward and building momentum.

Linking Open Data dataset cloud as of July 14t...
Image via Wikipedia

What we’ve got web-wize currently, in the form of commerce and social networks really took off and started running on Web2 type technologies and architecture.  They will continue to do so for a while yet. They will continue to flourish as the mesh between the semantic or web 3.0 technologies (basically best described by A man called Nova Spivack in 2008 as 10 year cycles – there will be a cycle after 3) which importantly have at their core security and verification of facts. A simple way to consider things is ‘If it isn’t a fact it doesn’t exist but it could be proven’. When you take that to the next step you realise you have to exist, your business has to exist but how does the Web verify it?

In “Making Better Sense Of The Semantic Web”   I wrote

“Once data can be read and is understood by the new web, the way you control your research, advertising, marketing, search and business in general will never be the same.  Used in the right way and in the correct context we can genuinely expect more effectiveness, better efficiency and see benefits all round.”

The third cycle.

The third investment cycle has now had momentum for a few years and the uplift of data for filtering is not stopping anytime soon.  The coming wave of developments using structured data technology herald the rise of new ways of finding what you want.   The Web is there for you to use.  Why would you use a search engine to get help when you can ask the web to solve your specific problem?

So … what I’m really saying is there is another web out there that already knows things and can think for itself.  The Web can only help you if you work with it. What do you think the Web knows about you already?  Better still how does it think it can help you?

It won’t hurt to wait another day to find out a bit more so I guess it’s time for another coffee me thinks.

In the mean time if you want to know why the phrase ‘dave likes cookies’ helped social networks take off or how hashtags came into being or what links are meant to be and how it’s going to help you (even if you don’t fully understand it) do go watch the video I posted in September 2008.  Don’t let the title put you off!  It’s a nine min video that reminds you about 3rd grade English language.  You’ll get the point though within five mins 🙂

BTW this next bit relates to the (*) when I said above I can help small businesses that want to compete and prosper online.  In any marketplace, at any level, with almost any budget.* which you’d probably forgotten about.

* If you are a one man/woman band or very small business you should be prepared to inject/invest a minimum of £10K for other project costs (on top of having to learn how to use it) and then if you have your facts and figures right you should be able to double that investment in at most a year, probably within six months.  You should begin to see measured improvements from month two.  While it is possible for one person to do everything that needs to be done (research, graphics, design, build, copy, marketing, promotion, sales, tracking, delivery, analysis, feedback etc.) the time saving element of employing others to handle routine or specialist aspects can not be over looked and this technology can hook into it all.  It’s also fair to say that currently the more funding you inject in to defining your structured web presence and profile from the outset using this technology will mean the returns will compounded as you build on your original growth.

I ‘ll be back tomorrow with a cuppa coffee version of the history of how.

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