Semantic Search: Blessing or Curse?

While I was not born a digital neighbor, I love searching the web for information. This has been a great boon to research used in my professional life, and I have also found it to be a benefit in my personal life for the past several years.

Searching restaurants with a view...

For example, searches using the web has allowed me to:

  • Find actual musical artists from the dusty past
  • Research odd historical facts
  • Find facts on little known philosophers and writers
  • Find quotes that fit a very specific situation
  • Search for restaurants and other events…in fact, I don’t even use a paper based phone directory anymore, something I couldn’t have even imagined from myself as little as 5-6 years ago. (The truth is though that my wife still has to fight with me to throw out the paper directories when they come…)

And those cases only scratch the surface. I likely use the web for various searches at least 100 times per week. Now all of this was possible with Web 2.0, the Social Web, and even Web 1.0. Yet to some extent, they were only as productive as you were creative.

I think I was a pretty adept searcher, but it often took me numerous reiterations of key words to find specifically what I was looking for since the web quite literally searched for what you requested. Searches bringing in similar terms were based on spelling or similar letter constructions; they were not based on logic.

Enter the semantic web…

The key concept here is an intelligent web that comes to know you and make suggestions and create searches based on your previously displayed preferences. Even without knowing specifics about you on a particular search, it is still able to use past “learnings” by that search engine to create more intelligent searches. Sounds great, right?

While  it still helps to know what you are looking for, you nowhave ally in the process, almost akin to the help you received from searching inside a focus specific portal in the past. An amusing comparison between the social web and the semantic web can be seen below:

Yet like using a portal, I fear that with the smart web (semantic web) no one will ever broaden their horizons because they only get fed more of what they already know or what they already like. This assistance, in my opinion, may destroy one of the things that made the web so great, namely being able to take advantage of “longtail” searches to find the truly arcane information available in corners of the internet.

An example of this can be seen on YouTube. I have pretty diverse tastes in musical programming, yet the suggestions by YouTube now  seem to limit to selections of artists or pieces (if classical) that I have previously (and I might add, recently) played. I think that the browse suggestions were actually more intriguing when YT didn’t track my behavior so well.

Ethel_Barrymore was right when she stated  “You must learn day by day, year by year to broaden your horizon. The more things you love, the more you are interested in, the more you enjoy, the more you are indignant about, the more you have left when anything happens.”

So, while it can be very convenient, I do worry that the semantic web may limit our ability to  grow.

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One Response to “Semantic Search: Blessing or Curse?”

  1. John Ferraro Says:

    Mr. Google knows EVERYTHING!!!

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