Digital Directions: The Semantic Web
Examples of the Semantic Approach’s Value
In looking at the dominance of search engines and Web 2.0 folksonomies, we may well conclude that the model of the Semantic Web has been usurped by other less cumbersome and more organic methods.
But I don’t think that is the case. There are some compelling examples emerging of how the semantic approach is adding value to published content.
• Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC). Publishing professionals know all about taxonomies. They use them every day. BISAC and Library of Congress subject headings are, in fact, standardized taxonomies, used to connect partners along the publishing value chain. Publishers do not typically embed BISAC tags according to the Semantic Web technical specification, nor do BISAC subject categories contain the detail necessary to perform research. Ted Hill, a publishing consultant who specializes in digital supply chain issues, points out that BISAC was created to let booksellers know on which shelf in a bookstore to place a book. “BISAC subject codes were part of a strategy to reduce double-stocking and cut the cost of inventory,” notes Hill, “not promote discovery by search engines.” However, BISAC is conceptually consistent with the semantic vision described by Berners-Lee.
• Alexander Street Press. Founded in 2000, Alexander Street Press might be the most forward-thinking electronic content aggregator in the humanities. Alexander Street Press acquires, prepares and electronically distributes collections of books, documents and rich-media content for humanities research. Their preparation includes a very detailed application of semantic tags from controlled vocabularies that dramatically increase the value of the content for research. This process requires domain expertise, curatorial care and technical know-how. According to Alexander Street Press President Stephen Rhind-Tutt, “There is a general underestimation of the value of librarianship and cataloging.”
The value of the results is clear, however. Semantic preparation enables researchers to extract facts from collections of content—not just find search terms. Rhind-Tutt observes, “Researchers can ask questions that are much harder to ask [than] if the content was not semantically structured.” Alexander Street’s longevity is a testament to the value it is creating in the humanities research marketplace.