Google and the Dance Floor of The Semantic Web

By Deane Barker on March 21, 2012

Google Knowledge Graph Could Change Search Forever: You know that great, unrealized dream of The Semantic Web?  The thing that everyone acknowledges would likely be great, but that no one actually does anything about?  Yeah, well Google might finally be taking a step in that direction.

[Google Fellow Amit Singhal] outlined a developing vision for search that takes it beyond mere words and into the world of entities, attributes and the relationship between those entities. In other words, Google’s future search engine will not only understand your lake question but know a lake is a body of water and tell you the depth, surface areas, temperatures and even salinities for each lake.

[…] Google now wants to transform words that appear on a page into entities that mean something and have related attributes.

[…] Google is “building a huge, in-house understanding of what an entity is and a repository of what entities are in the world and what should you know about those entities,” said Singhal.

This is fairly huge, because it promises a “URI of record” for real-world objects or concepts.  What you find when starting work with RDF – Resource Description Framework, the de facto language of The Semantic Web – is that it works best when everyone agrees that Thing X is represented by URI X.  That way, you and me and everyone else can use URI X in our RDF, and be talking about the same thing.

And therein lies the rub – getting the entire web to agree on what URI X was for Thing X was nigh impossible. But now, if Google endorses URI X (and Y, and Z, etc.), that would be akin to kicking a snowball off the hill.

The biggest problem with The Semantic Web, really, has been a variation of The Empty Dance Floor Problem.  A party isn’t a party until everyone starts dancing, but if no one is willing to take a risk and be the first one on the dance floor, then it stays empty. Google may have just taken that first step out there.

If you want to learn more about RDF, I highly recommend Programming the Semantic Web by O’Reilly. This is a great book that shows you what’s really possible.  (Also, it was my first introduction to Python, which was a bonus.)

And if you’re looking for a little history, read the original article about The Semantic Web by Tim-Berner’s Lee from 2001 over at Scientific American.