May 8, 2008
Nova Spivack, the founder of Twine, held an interesting presentation about the future of the Web on the Next Web conference in Amsterdam. He thinks that we are currently in the process of Internet evolution in which tags are having an increasing significance. He predicts that in the next 10 to 15 years tags will have an increasingly important part while keywords will gradually disappear.
An interesting discussion about the subject took place on Techcrunch when Eric Schonfeld posted this thread asking the question “Is Keyword Search About To Hit Its Breaking Point?“. 97 comments have been posted so far and one of them especially caught my attention:
Tags are nothing new, that is for sure. But what if you could tag an object, or entity, with another object. So instead of tagging objects with strings, which falls back on a simple full-text search, you could tag something with an actual representation?
I think that John has really nailed the point.
The problem with both keywords and tags is that they are just words. But what would happen if, instead of words, we used objects? What if we used unique concepts that would always and everywhere have the same name and would refer to the specific object?
Wikipedia & DBpedia
How can we reach an agreement on the names of such a large number of concepts? Well, it’s already been done and can be found in the largest collection of concepts in the world – Wikipedia. Wikipedia, besides having a standardized way of displaying articles, also has a standardized way of naming titles, which have been created and are constantly perfected by social consensus.
Currently there are over 2.36 million articles in English language on Wikipedia. The titles of Wikipedia articles are unique and cover almost all the concepts we can imagine.
However, the “problem” with Wikipedia is that it is not made for machines, but for humans. Its search capabilities are limited to full-text search, which only allows very limited access to this valuable knowledge-base.
Fortunately, there is DBpedia, which represents community effort to extract structured information from Wikipedia and to make this information available on the Web. The DBpedia.org project uses the Resource Description Framework (RDF) as a flexible data model for representing extracted information and for publishing it on the Web.
This practically means that based on the name of the tag we can learn more useful information about that tag, its properties and connections to other tags. That is why I believe that DBpedia web pages are good representatives of the “objects”, the references of which will be tags.
Characteristics of new tags
Unlike classic tags, which are just words, new tags represent references to unique concepts that have their own URL. For example, the tag “Coca-Cola” has a reference to URL http://dbpedia.org/data/Coca-Cola http://dbpedia.org/resource/Coca-Cola (actually, the name of the tag is just the last part of the URL).
So, instead of having different tags for the same concept, which is the case with classic tags (cocacola, coca-cola, coca+cola, CocaCola) there will be just the one unique “Coca-Cola” tag.
But what if we wanted to add a tag that has more than one meaning? Let us look at the example of “library”. What are we referring to – “a collection of books”, “collection of subroutines used to develop software” or “the Seinfeld episode called ‘The Library’”?
Tag properties and its connections to other tags
New tags are references to objects, and objects, as we know, have certain properties. In DBpedia there are some properties that are common to all tags, such as: an abstract, a picture (if existing), labels in multiple languages, type and subject to whom the tag belongs.
For example, if we look at DBpedia page for Keith Richards we can learn some additional properties about him (year of birth, type of voice, genre of music he plays…) as well as his connections to other tags (born in Dartford, current member of The Rolling Stones, plays Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul, occupation: Music producer, Musician and Songwriter…).
Classification of tags
As I mentioned earlier, tags belong to different groups and form a structure. A system that supports such tags has an advantage over other systems because it automatically classifies tags and so “knows” what Microformat, RDFa, Web Ontology Language and Thesauris have in common. They all belong to the subject Knowledge representation. That’s why with Faviki it is possible to follow the content by subject and not only using one tag (see Knowledge representation page).
I think that tags will truly dominate in the near future. But those will not be the tags that we are used to, but their “smarter” offspring. I believe that the results of this evolution will make the foundation for the future Internet which will handle objects and their properties instead of just web pages. Present situation is not ideal but it makes a good foundation for the development of the universal language that could connect people and the Internet in new and exciting ways.