Yesterday I came across a stream of tweets about schema.org. A post on the official Google blog was the initial post I saw: Introducing schema.org: Search engines come together for a richer web. This was followed by Yahoo’s post “Introducing schema.org: A Collaboration on Structured Data“. Not to be left out on the Bing blog Microsoft provided a similar post “Introducing Schema.org: Bing, Google and Yahoo Unite to Build the Web of Objects“.
But what is schema.org? The home page summarises what this collaborative approach to structured data s about:
This site provides a collection of schemas, i.e., html tags, that webmasters can use to markup their pages in ways recognized by major search providers. Search engines including Bing, Google and Yahoo! rely on this markup to improve the display of search results, making it easier for people to find the right web pages.
Many sites are generated from structured data, which is often stored in databases. When this data is formatted into HTML, it becomes very difficult to recover the original structured data. Many applications, especially search engines, can benefit greatly from direct access to this structured data. On-page markup enables search engines to understand the information on web pages and provide richer search results in order to make it easier for users to find relevant information on the web. Markup can also enable new tools and applications that make use of the structure.
A shared markup vocabulary makes easier for webmasters to decide on a markup schema and get the maximum benefit for their efforts. So, in the spirit of sitemaps.org, Bing, Google and Yahoo! have come together to provide a shared collection of schemas that webmasters can use.
The endorsement for deployment of structured semantic HTML markup from the main search engine vendors would appear to suggest that this approach will succeed whereas initial approaches, such as microformats, did not live up to their promise. The question will be how quickly CMS vendors respond or whether in-house development will provide an opportunity for rapid deployment of the schema.org vocabularies. Of course there will also be a need for organisations to monitor the benefits in order to ensure that this provides additional benefits over other SEO techniques.
We have seen other developments this week, in particular the promotion of the Google+1 recommendation system. This was initially highlighted in a post on which announced that Social Search goes global in a post published on the Google Social Web blog in April with the announcement that “Social Search is rolling out globally in 19 languages and should be available in the coming week“. A few ago more information was revealed on how Google +1 can be used to:
publicly show what you like, agree with, or recommend on the web. The +1 button can appear in a variety of places, both on Google and on sites across the web. For example, you might see a +1 button for a Google search result, Google ad, or next to an article you’re reading on your favorite news site. Your +1’s and your social connections also help improve the content you see in Google Search.
The Google Webmaster Central Blog goes on to add that:
We’re working on a +1 button that you can put on your pages too, making it easy for people to recommend your content on Google search without leaving your site.
Hmm, so as well as providing semantic markup from schema.org it should also be possible to use Google’s social networks to provide recommendations.
Facebook Like and Send
As described on the Read Write Blog just over a month ago Facebook announced that in addition to the ‘Like’ button which enables recommendations to be made available within the Facebook environment a Send button can be used so that “Facebook users will be able to share content with specific groups of friends, rather than everyone on their friends list, giving them the precision sharing tool they’ve needed all along“.
“google is the most powerful standardization organization. A dictatorial one for that matter“
Discussions on Twitter on the implications of the schema.org announcements have already started with @hvdsompel suggesting that “schema.org is yet another illustration that google is the most powerful standardization organization. A dictatorial one for that matter“.
My view is that microformats provided an opportunity for a community-led inititiative which dates back to 2005. As I described in a trip report about the WWW 2005 conference published in Ariadne in July 2005:
I should mention ‘microformats’ or, as it is also (confusingly) termed the ‘lowercase semantic web’. Microformats have been described as ‘a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards … designed for humans first and machines second‘
The following year IWMW 2006 featured a workshop session on “Exposing yourself on the Web with Microformats!” which explored ways in which richer semantics for content held on institutional Web sites could be exposed. But in reality, apart from a few Firefox plugins such as Operator and Tails Export, there was little ongoing interest in microformats.
This is a reasons why I find the schemas.org announcement particularly exciting – and the coordinated posts from Yahoo and Microsoft in addition to Google will help to address concerns that this is an attempt by Google to enforce a company-specific solution on the Web.
But where does this leave RDFa? As explained in a page about the schemas.org data model: “Our use of Microdata maps easily into RDFa 1.1. In fact, all of Schema.org can be used with the RDFa 1.1 syntax as is” although the page concludes with the warning that “Microdata does not have analogs for RDFa features such as CURIES, Turtles, Chaining, Typed vs Plain literals, etc.“.
“Why the Button War? Because Content is Social Currency”
The discussions and arguments about the underlying structure of semantic markup on HTML resources will focus on the different approaches (microformats, RDFa and the schemas.org support for the microdata approach) and, as we have seen, the issues about ownership of the approaches. It should be pointed out, however, that microdata is part of HTML5 and the HTML5 Microdata draft was published on the W3C Web site on Wednesday 1 June 2011. So whilst the editor of the draft is based at Google it should be acknowedged that many W3C standards have been developed by those working in commercial companies and that this can help to ensure that standards are deployed and gain acceptance in the marketplace.
But in addition to the discussions about approaches to exploiting microdata consideration will also have to be given to ways in which content can be exposed to the social web in order for individuals to share their recommendations across theirs networks. We have already seen the how the popularity of the ‘Like’ button has led to the release of the ‘Send’ button, which is based on Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol, which has been described as “A Meaningful First Step to a True Semantic Web”. But what of Google +1? And what of the user experience with a seemingly ever-growing array of buttons which can be used to promote Web resources across social web environments including not only Facebook and Google but also microblogging environments such as Twitter?
In a post entitled “Why the Button War? Because Content is Social Currency [10 Links]” Tac Anderson describes how buttons (whether a Facebook ‘Like’, a Twitter Retweet, the rating button at the bottom of this post or whatever) provide a ‘point of transaction’ where one says “Yes I associate myself with this piece of content” . Tac argues that “As a publisher buttons are invaluable as a way to make you content shareable, raise awareness, drive engagement and ultimately increase visits and regular readers“.
Whilst the focus of the post seems to be the more general commercial and social uses of the Web, the need to make “content shareable, raise awareness, drive engagement and ultimately increase visits and regular readers” is also true for those of us working across the higher education sector, whether in teaching and learning, research or marketing areas.
I can’t help that feel that resource discovery is getting very interesting – and I’d welcome comments on how we feel that our sector should respond.