The web is changing. I know you’ve heard this before and quite frankly you will hear it a great many times again in your lifetime. But we can quantify this change in ways that were simply not possible in the past. Change on the web is usually associated with functionality, volume, velocity, or agility. In other words, the attributes which determine the structure, growth and interactivity of the web. This time, however, the change is different. Rather than impacting on any of these usual attributes, the change is actually born of them and the reason for that is that this change, this time, goes to the very core of what makes the web useable, namely, search itself.
Search is crucial to the value of the web. Why? Because it is the way we navigate the massive amount of information that gets placed on it. Search also is the quality that adds meaning to the attributes that will determine the growth and development of the web. Imagine, how could the web grow and develop without search? Suddenly the world within worlds of interconnected information, the huge expansion of every possible kind of stored knowledge and increased functionality would have no meaning or impact upon anyone beyond the lucky few to stumble across a website or a directory or a collection of stored knowledge that happened to be what they were looking for. Indeed, they would be feeling quite lucky since the size of that data cannot even be measured! As I add the 20 megabytes of this article onto the web, the size of the web expands: no one can know how much bigger the web is getting even as you finish this sentence! Search is what saves the day. It allows you to navigate this constantly expanding universe in real time. Literally, the day this Journal article is posted, it becomes searchable to someone on the other side of the world. Moreover, it then creates meaning out of the chaos. You of course know what you are looking for because you are thinking about a particular subject. Being able to find that information (and quickly, before you forget your train of thought) allows the web to acquire a shape that makes immediate, mindful, sense. Great search adds instant value to what is being uploaded on the web. You can be connected to just the particular fact––just the particular person––just the very item you want––that someone else is (or has been) writing about, thinking about, analyzing or uploading to the web in real time. Your thoughts can be connected to those thoughts to create new webs of thought (also then searchable by yet another person). Because of great search, this can all happen faster than the human brain can have a single thought (approximately 20 million billion calculations per second). Wow! And search is changing so that it’s even more accurate, and can find what you are looking for even faster. How is it doing this? Paradoxically, search is working better and faster by becoming more human.
Finally a Search Worthy of the Web
It is no accident that the very word ‘Semantic’ comes from a Greek root meaning having meaning or making sense. The kind of search we have now––sequential/Boolean search––is losing its power the more there is of the web to find. The reason this is happening is because of similarity of content that arises out of coincidence (sometimes), design, or, outright plagiarism. It can be compared to using a flashlight in your backyard at night: things are fine––even if two things look relatively similar––until your backyard becomes the size of the State of New York! To find what you are looking for on today’s web takes on the proportions of an ancient Greek myth: perhaps like the story of the Labyrinth. In that story, Daedalus made a maze so complicated that he almost couldn’t find his own way out!
Well we haven’t gone that far yet, thank goodness. Given the fact that every year we add on the web more data than we created from the dawn of history to the year 2003, it becomes obvious that traditional Boolean search that delivers results based on a statistical analysis of probability of content is going to deliver an increasingly large number of links that will need to be sifted through eventually by our own efforts as we try to find the exact answer to the search query we have typed in the search engine box. The “results” will have longer lists, the “top” of the list might not be what we were looking for. (How many “Main Streets” in the State of New York? Or were you really interested in the book by Sinclair Lewis?)
Semantic Search takes care of all this by analyzing not only the statistical probability of content based on keywords and keyword density, but by understanding the very meaning and value of each document that’s on the web in direct relation to our search query. In other words Semantic Search answers the intent behind our question the way a super-smart human would do. Or, for that matter, maybe not someone super-smart, but at least human: a child knows the difference between tears of rage and tears that create little piles of torn paper. Semantic Search can use context as well as content and it is already increasing the speed of your search behind the scenes right now.
The way Semantic Search achieves what seems a super-human feat is through an algorithm that analyzes the relationships between documents on the web and then calculates the likelihood of a connection between each one in a way that ascribes a value to it. So, for instance, suppose you wanted to look for “Best-selling British SEO authors.”
(Copy and paste the following search into a different page of a browser:
OR: Click here.
(The point of showing the data in the link above is so you can see the values being ascribed in the search.)
Google’s Semantic Search would have to take a look at all those who are associated with SEO on its social network, then work out who is a writer as opposed to an SEO provider, then discover the subset of those who are British, then check to see that they are published authors with books available and then, finally, serve them up as a list of links. (By the way, it is more than likely that you will find me amongst them.)
Right now Semantic Search is at a nascent stage. The amount of information that is required in order to create a truly semantic web is staggering and even more staggering is the taxonomy (a way to group things together) that is classically associated with the indexing of such information. Nevertheless, this is the only way to go if we are to continue to derive useful meaning from the mounting data that is being added to the web.
The Semantic Web Defines Us Too
Because data acquires real meaning when it interacts with the Semantic web, data derives some of its filtering from the social signal of the human interactions surrounding the data content. Social signals are how human beings understand meaning: a phone call from your wife has a different “social signal” than a phone call, say, from a stranger selling something. This addition of social signal creates a two-way street where data is constantly being created, shared and curated as a means of defining our digital identity, while we are also frequently being defined by the data we use; all of it being constantly re-connected back and forth to our social interactions.
In that sense the impact of Semantic Search acquires a kind of philosophical value. It not only helps shape the meaning of the digital world that we discover through data, but it also becomes part of the image of the world––and the meaning of our place in the world––that we form as a result of the data we discover.
Ultimately Semantic Search helps provide meaning not just to the things we are looking to find on the web but also to the much more substantial and harder to solve questions of who we are, what we do, why we do it, and who we do it with. And it does it all through the seemingly simple action of … search.
<Table of Contents
David Amerland is
the author of The Social Media Mind
and the best-selling SEO Help, Online
Marketing Help and Brilliant SEO.
He is currently working on the new book, Semantic
Search and SEO which will be published in April 2013. His articles and books
on online marketing, SEO and the social media revolution have helped thousands
of entrepreneurs build successful online businesses. When he is not busy
writing, he advises companies and start-ups on social media strategy, and gives
talks about the social media revolution. He maintains his own blog at
http://helpmyseo.com where you can find practical SEO and social media advice;
and spends more time online than is probably healthy. You can follow him on G+
Juliëtte van Bavel is a multi-disciplined artist from The Netherlands who makes creations in abstract-photography, stone and oil-paint. Her philosophy of life is encapsulated by the following:
"Flowing Creativity knows no boundary in matter."
"Art is an expression of love."
Juliëtte has a fascination for light and movement. This has become her study in art at all levels, independent of the discipline.
She has been active as an artist since the very young age of 4, discovering her way, first in dance, music and drama till she found "her discipline" in Fine Arts.
How to cite the above article in APA format:
Amerland, David (2013). The Search for Meaning in a Connected Web. The Journal of
Social Era Knowledge, Volume 1, Issue 2. Retrieved from