Enabling Communication through Semantic Search

About a two years ago, I was asked to help articulate to my company the reasons behind the implementation of a series of new IT tools – many of which would require a change in how our researchers worked and collaborated both internally and with our clients. After reviewing all the new tools that were going to be launched, I concluded that, essentially, my company’s IT department was attempting to help the organization know what we knew – to discover what knowledge was resident in our databases, publications, and even our people.

This is why, as I read the second half of Battelle’s book The Search, I found myself drawn to his chapter on Perfect Search (chapter 11). I saw parallels between what he saw as the future of search and what my company was – and is still – attempting to do: find useful information that has context.

But as I read Battelle’s book – just as I have with all the materials I have read and studied in this and all my classes – I had in the back of my mind the nagging thought: This is great, but what does this mean for me and what does in mean for communication?

Clearly, an effective search engine is critical for a research organization such as the Institute for Defense Analyses, where I work. Being able to quickly find relevant information, people, and publications is key to conducting thorough analyses. More important, from a communications perspective, effective search enables the creation of new interactions and communities of expertise.

The evolution of the Semantic Web, in particular, can truly expand the communication reach of all sorts of communities. In essence, the Semantic Web is designed to improve communications between people using differing terminologies, to extend the interoperability of databases, to provide tools for interacting with multimedia collections, and to provide new mechanisms for supporting computing in which people and machines work more interactively.

The current Web provides links between pages that are designed for human consumption. The Semantic Web augments this with pages designed to contain machine-readable descriptions of Web pages and other Web resources. These documents can be linked together to provide information to the computer as to how the terms in one relate to those in another. And, really, isn’t this what people are doing when they use social networks?

Semantic Search opens the door to creating new communication connections that otherwise may not exist by allowing individuals to discover new connections with other individuals. Even on a small scale, such as within a single organization, being able to connect individuals, data, and knowledge can have profound effects in terms of productivity and the creation of new ideas and solutions to existing problems.

In light of this, I can see how implementing social networking, which already is using the Semantic Web, would be useful for internal employee communications. A social networking site, such as IBM’s Lotus Connections, could allow staff members to set up a profile and create their own key-term tags, set up blogs, and collaborative work areas. And, just as with the recent establishment on Facebook of an alert system to find blood donors, users could sent out an alert internally among our researchers when they need to find someone with, for example, a physics degree and experience working on radar systems is needed. A Semantic Search also could retrieve other pertinent information from additional databases.

According to an interview with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and now Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, the Semantic Web is already here. Why, then, given the obvious potential this technology has, isn’t being made of this new tool?

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