Preparing your sites for the data web

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Okay, the Data Web (from the man himself – Tim Berners-Lee) is coming. Linked data will rule the day and if you don’t act quick your website will be left behind. Or more likely your site will simply go on strike demanding better work conditions and an observance of the fact that it is capable of oh so much more and you haven’t been caring enough to see it.

Semantic Web

So show your sites some love and give them the respect they deserve.

Okay, so now what on earth would make you want to do this?

  • Everyone else is doing it — well, not really. Mark Z isn’t. But you are more clever then him aren’t you?
  • Yahoo (see quote below) and Google are doing it. Now we are getting somewhere.
  • Twine, Dbpedia (the linked data version of Wikipedia), Revyu are currently linked data citizens and we all want to be like them don’t we?
  • Drupal 7 will become a full fledged data web client

… Without a killer semantic web app for consumers, site owners have been reluctant to support standards like RDF, or even microformats. We believe that app can be web search.

By supporting semantic web standards, Yahoo! Search and site owners can bring a far richer and more useful search experience to consumers…

In the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing more detailed specifications that will describe our support of semantic web standards. Initially, we plan to support a number of microformats, including hCard, hCalendar, hReview, hAtom, and XFN. Yahoo! Search will work with the web community to evolve the vocabulary framework for embedding structured data. For starters, we plan to support vocabulary components from Dublin Core, Creative Commons, FOAF, GeoRSS, MediaRSS, and others based on feedback. And, we will support RDFa and eRDF markup to embed these into existing HTML pages. Finally, we are announcing support for the OpenSearch specification, with extensions for structured queries to deep web data sources.

–source Yahoo! Search blog

I talked about this last month, but at that time it was a research project developed by Peter Mika. Looks like they move quick! Well done Yahoo.

Google Open Social already indexes microformats and FOAF to help generate its social graph. This is a natural progression. As Tim Berners-Lee recently said:

the “current craze” for social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace would eventually be superseded by networks that connected all types of things – not just people – thanks to a ground-breaking technology known as the “semantic web”.

— source Australian IT

Rethink the basics

This coming change is huge. It means a new way of thinking of your websites, your information, your feeds, everything. Every piece of information can and should be able to hook into the data web. With Yahoo! thinking of the future and in the right direction, you can be sure that Google, Microsoft and every other search engine out there will follow suit. I am sure they have been tracking this as well and probably even have something in the works.

What you can do now

Start learning microformats such as: hCard, hCalendar, hReview, hAtom. These are some of the more common formats and this is what search engines will pick up on. If you create custom microformats or utilise others you risk them not being picked up at all. I will cover the reasons for this in another blog post.

Learn RDFa. RDFa is set to become the W3C’s standard for embedding metadata into web pages. This is the key to unlocking the true power of linked data. RDFa speaks the native tongue of the Semantic Web, RDF. This creates immediate benefits liked linked data, mixing vocubularies (think an artist music track and their FOAF file in one line) and creating custom vocabularies.

RDFa does not replace microformats — although you could use them instead. It has its own markup that is currently valid only with XHTML (there are some moves to get a profile going for HTML 4) and its own learning curve. The RDFa camp is now in full swing getting materials together to build a wiki to help get everyone started.

New skills for SEO and new market advantages

Learning the details of the web of data will become more and more important. When sites like Yahoo! start giving more relevance to linked data and start presenting linked data sites in more interesting ways you can bet that your customers will be demanding an embedded metadata/linked data audit.

This is a good time for anyone willing to go that extra step.

David PetersonDavid Peterson
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