More Semantic Search and Search Engine Optimization Chatter

June 10, 2015

I read “Understanding Semantic Search.” I had high hopes. The notion of Semantic Search as set forth by Tim Bray, Ramanathan Guha, and some other wizards years ago continues to intrigue me. The challenge has been to deliver high value outputs that generate sufficient revenue to pay for the plumbing, storage, and development good ideas can require.

I spent considerable time exploring one of the better known semantic search systems before the company turned off the lights and locked its doors. Siderean Software offered its Seamark system which could munch on triples and output some quite remarkable results. I am not sure why the company was not able to generate more revenue.

The company emphasized “discovery searching.” Vivisimo later imitated Siderean’s user input feature. The idea is that if a document required an additional key word, the system accepted the user input and added the term to the index. Siderean was one of the first search vendors to suggest that “graph search” or relationships would allow users to pinpoint content processed by the system. In the 2006-2007 period, Siderean indexed Oracle text content as a demonstration. (At the time, Oracle had the original Artificial Linguistics’ technology, the Oracle Text function, Triple Hop, and PL/SQL queries. Not surprisingly, Oracle did not show the search acquisition appetite the company demonstrated a few years later when Oracle bought Endeca’s ageing technology, the RightNow Netherlands-originated technology, or the shotgun marriage search vendor InQuira.)

I also invested some time on behalf of the client in the semantic inventions of Dr. Ramanathan Guha. This work was summarized in Google Version 2.0, now out of print. Love those print publishers, folks.

Dr. Guha applied the features of the Semantic Web to plumbing which, if fully implemented, would have allowed Google to build a universal database of knowledge, serve up snippets from a special semantic server, and perform a number of useful functions. This work was done by Dr. Guha when he was at IBM Almaden and at Google. My analysis of Dr. Guha’s work suggests that Google has more semantic plumbing than most observers of the search giant notice. The reason, I concluded, was that semantic technology works behind the scenes. Dragging the user into OWL, RDF, and other semantic nuances does not pay off as well as embedding certain semantic functions behind the scenes.

In the “Understanding Semantic Search” write up, I learned that my understanding of semantic search is pretty much a wild and crazy collection of half truths. Let me illustrate what the article presents as the “understanding” function for addled geese like me.

  • Searches have a context
  • Results can be local or national
  • Entities are important; for example, the White House is different from a white house

So far, none of this helps me understand semantic search as embodied in the 3WC standard nor in the implementation of companies like Siderean or the Google-Guha patent documents from 2007 forward.

The write up makes a leap from context to the question, “Are key words still important?”

From that question, the article informs me that I need to utilize schema mark up. These are additional code behinds which provide information to crawlers and other software about the content which the user sees on a rendering device.

And that’s it.

So let’s recap. I learned that context is important via illustrations which show Google using different methods to localize or personalize content. The write up does not enumerate the different methods which use browser histories, geolocation, and other signals. The write up then urges me to use additional mark up.

I think I will stick with my understanding of semantics. My work with Siderean and my research for an investment bank provided a richer base of knowledge about the real world applications of semantic technology. Technology, I wish to point out, which can be computationally demanding unless one has sufficient resources to perform the work.

What is happening in this “Understanding Semantic Search” article is an attempt to generate business for search engine optimization experts. Key word stuffing and doorway pages no longer work very well. In fact, SEO itself is a problem because it undermines precision and recall. Spoofing relevance is not my idea of a useful activity.

For those looking to semantics to deliver Google traffic, you might want to invest the time and effort in creating content which pulls users to you.

Stephen E Arnold, June 9, 2015


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