By John-Scott Dixon
My five-year-old son recently asked me, “What is ground?” I responded with, “It
is the surface of our planet.” He said “No, ground.” Puzzled, I pressed on with,
“Well, when they make hamburger, they put steak into a grinder, then it is
ground into hamburger meat.” Frustrated, he said, “No Dad, ground.” Finally, I
replied with, “Are you talking about ‘grounded,’ like when kids get in trouble?”
He said, “Yes, what is ground?” We were dealing with semantics.
The Semantic Web, or Web 3.0, is about meaning — understanding the context of a
word or concept to offer relevant resources, thereby making it easier for people
to find what they seek. In the example at left, my son was the user and I was
the search engine, having trouble understanding the context of his query.
As the Web and its available resources continue to expand, it is becoming
increasingly difficult to find what you want efficiently. It’s like stocking the
shelves of your local grocery store with nothing but generic brands and
expanding it to the size of five city blocks. We need help making choices.
The Semantic Graph
When I search, the list of results can be daunting — a search on Google for
“ground” returned over five million results. Over the last few years, we have
also been able to expand our searches to images, podcasts and video as well as
websites. With proper syntax, we can structure searches that give back
information only — like how many cups in a pint? But for anything other than
weights and measures, the search engines are often lacking.
For example, if you want to find the earned run average (ERA) for major league
pitcher Randy Johnson for every season he’s played, it would take a massive
effort on Google. Search “Randy Johnson ERA” and Google will direct you to
websites that might contain some of the information you are after, like ESPN.com,
SI.com, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ website or BaseballLibrary.com. Those websites
will certainly contain data about Randy Johnson and his ERA, but you will have
to do some more digging to find a list of his ERA from the beginning of his
Major League Baseball career through last season. ecently, I spent some time
with John Grace — CEO of ENTH, a next generation search engine (Enth.com). We
performed the Randy Johnson search, and the result was an ordered list of his
ERA from 1988 through 2007, rather than a list of websites that might, or might
not have the information. ENTH is only making sense of Major League Baseball,
the National Basketball Association and College Football for now, but their
mission is to apply their technology to every database that exists. And there
are other semantic search engines changing the way we retrieve information, well
beyond the sports arena.
Each of us has a unique set of things that we value — people, places,
experiences and objects we deem important. And although our interests are
personal and unique, there are countless others who may share some of these
interests, or have interests related in some way to our own. That creates common
themes across categories, and people who share common interests in each of those
categories. There may be relationships that we’re unaware of that exist, like
people interested in visiting Kauai who are also interested in vegetarian diets.
This is what Nova Spivack, founder of Twine, calls a Semantic Graph. By using
the Semantic Graph, a new brand of search engines and Web applications can make
suggestions based on our unique combination of interests and the interests of
people in our networks.
What Semantic Search Means to Your Business
So why aren’t we seeing much in the way of semantic search from Google? A likely
theory is that it would hurt their core business of advertising. Russell Glass,
general manager and senior vice president of advertising for ZoomInfo says, “if
their search results were perfect, who would click on the ads?” That’s a valid
point, and one that presents an opportunity for new search engines. The
challenge is creating a business model where contextual advertising is less
ZoomInfo offers a $99 annual membership to perform people searches for sales and
marketing personnel building prospecting lists. ENTH will charge businesses a
premium to mash internal databases with external public databases. As for
PowerSet, it is still unclear how they will monetize semantic search.
What can be done today and how do we prepare for tomorrow? Here are five
1. Connect with the right people. Imagine your company has a product that takes
advantage of mobile telephony for use in automobiles. And, one of your most
promising conversations was with an executive at an automotive company who
previously worked in the telecommunications industry. With technology like
ZoomInfo, you might be able to build a list of executives who meet that profile.
That hasn’t been possible before. Available Today.
2. Make industry data available for public inquiry. Using the power of ENTH or a
similar technology enables people to find relationships in your data that you
might not have otherwise found. The benefit is the association of your brand as
the source of helpful information. Available Today.
3. Educate semantic search engines by defining your commercial space to ontology
engines like WordNet from Princeton University (WordNet.Princeton.edu). As an
example, Fender Guitar Company may want to teach the semantic search engines
that Fender manufactures acoustic and electric guitars, and within the electric
guitar category is the Stratocaster, Telecaster, etc. The idea is when somebody
searches for “Best Electric Guitar,” the search engine might find a blog where a
guitarist claims his Stratocaster is the best guitar ever made. A semantic
search engine, like Powerset, would understand a reference to a Stratocaster as
“best” is related to the search for “Best Electric Guitar.” It would know the
Stratocaster is an electric guitar and a user says it’s the best. Available
4. Create landing pages to welcome visitors who represent market segments most
likely to visit your website. A common example is a competitive shopper —
someone visiting the websites of your competitors and, more importantly,
browsing specific categories, products or services. If you knew they were
comparing your product or service to a specific competitor’s, how could you
greet them to be more persuasive in the sales process? Detect visitors that match those
specific market segments when they arrive and display the corresponding landing
page. Available Today.
5. When Twine launches this spring, companies will be able to create “twines”
around commercial topics. This puts them at the heart of conversations about
their commercial space. It will also be important to establish a Semantic Graph
for your company. I am seeing Semantic Graphs as a form of digital fingerprint.
It might be the new way to express your brand. So people with certain attributes
are attracted to companies that cater to those attributes. Available Summer
More on Semantics
This search engine is very business focused, allowing us to drill down on
companies, people and jobs through Q&A-based searching. The results are better
organized business information for sales and marketing purposes. As an example,
you can search “Technology + Arizona” and get over 100 profiles of technology
companies located in Arizona. A link to each of their websites is just a part of
the information provided.
The Powerset service will launch in a few months. It is able to extract meaning
by reading documents like website pages, sentence by sentence. So, if you’re
interested in finding a list of swimsuit manufacturers, Powerset would have
already examined every website out there that discusses swimsuits, bathing
suits, bikinis, etc. It also has combined those words with others like
manufacturer, maker, designer, etc. So, the result is a comprehensive list of
swimsuit manufacturers. While Google will return websites that list swimsuit
manufacturers, the results are intermingled with less meaningful results as
ThougtLava’s Semanticator enables marketers to translate their target markets or
market segments into semantic personas which can be detected moments before
arrival. Each persona or profile represents a combination of attributes like
geographic location, operating system, day of the week, search keywords,
targeted websites visited, etc. By detecting market segments before arrival,
marketers are able to introduce visitors matching a particular persona to their
products and services in a more meaningful way.
This is a product of Radar Networks designed to help us discover our world in
ways that we’ll find interesting. As we organize and share interests, we’ll
discover new information within those interests and people who are equally as
passionate. As an example, I’m interested in Arizona travel. So, I might post
references to articles about places I’d like to visit, like the Grand Canyon.
Others on Twine may find me because of my Grand Canyon post — and we may choose
to connect in order to share additional Arizona travel information directly. As
my relationships grow, I can immediately alert my Arizona travel group to any
new information I've found. As the library of content around Arizona travel
grows, newcomers will find it when searching.
About the Author: John-Scott Dixon is the Founder of ThoughtLava. See a demonstration of their
patent-pending technology at www.Semanticator.com.