One small step for Yahoo, one giant leap for embedded metadata

The Semantic Web means a lot of different things to a small group of people and it means pretty much nothing to a larger group of people.

Yahoo is working hard to change that. It is no secret that Yahoo is a very forward thinking company, they have a lot of great web systems and are a major early adopter of technologies like microformats – used on sites like flickr. That embedded metadata is a gold mine just waiting to be tapped into.

Firefox 3 will ship with built in functionality to display this embedded metadata. Since Firefox 3 is not officially out yet, Firefox 2 users can start exploring what is out there with the Operator plugin. It gives a visual indicator of hidden metadata and give you ways of doing interesting things with it:

  • Geo locate an address on Google Maps
  • Add web contact addresses to your local address book
  • Add events from Upcoming to your calendar
  • Heaps more

So, how does this relate to the Semantic Web and how is Yahoo set to give it a boost? Peter Mika of Yahoo Research Spain has just released Microsearch, a search engine that:

…instead of hiding metadata, brings it to the front, thereby showing the user just how much metadata is out there for any given query.

And because this hidden metadata is structured data, you can do amazingly useful things with it like overlaying pages on a visual timeline or automatically mapping pages and entries onto a map.

Yahoo microsearch example web interface

Microsearch currently extracts and does useful things with the following metadata formats:

  • microformats (hCard, hCalendar, hReview)
  • linked RDF – via the HTML
  • RDFa – set to become a W3C Recommendation soon (I will blog about this shortly)

This is an important step, a major web company is acknowledging the benefit of semantic markup. Soon it will become a necessity for web sites to embed this extra metadata into pages so that they can be mashed up on the fly by anyone, even my Mum and Dad :)

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