A Fundamental Component of a New Web?

cogsbrowser Marketing Hype! I hear you thinking – well at least I didn’t use the tired old ‘Next Generation’ label.

Let me explain what is this fundamental component of what I am seeing potentially as a New Web, and what I mean by New Web.

This fundamental component I am talking about you might be surprised to learn is a vocabulary – Schema.org.  But let me first set the context by explaining my thoughts on this New Web.

Having once been considered an expert on Web 2.0 (I hasten to add by others, not myself) I know how dangerous it can be to attach labels to things.  It tends to spawn screen full’s of passionate opinions on the relevance of the name, date of the revolution, and over detailed analysis of isolated parts of what is a general movement.   I know I am on dangerous ground here!

To my mind something is new when it feels different.  The Internet felt different when the Web (aka HTTP + HTML + browsers) arrived.  The Web felt different (Web 2.0?) when it became more immersive (write as well as read) and visually we stopped trying to emulate in a graphical style what we saw on character terminals. Oh, and yes we started to round our corners. 

There have been many times over the last few years when it felt new – when it suddenly arrived in our pockets (the mobile web) – when the inner thoughts, and eating habits, of more friends that you ever remember meeting became of apparent headline importance (the social web) – when [the contents of] the web broke out of the boundaries of the browser and appeared embedded in every app, TV show, and voice activated device.

The feeling different phase I think we are going through at the moment, like previous times, is building on what went before.  It is exemplified by information [data] breaking out of the boundaries of our web sites and appearing where it is useful for the user. 

library_of_congress We are seeing the tip of this iceberg in the search engine Knowledge Panels, answer boxes, and rich snippets,ebay-rich-snippet   The effect of this being that often your potential user can get what they need without having to find and visit your site – answering questions such as what is the customer service phone number for an organisation; is the local branch open at the moment; give me driving directions to it; what is available and on offer.  Increasingly these interactions can occur without the user even being aware they are using the web – “Siri! Where is my nearest library?
A great way to build relationships with your customers. However a new and interesting challenge for those trying to measure the impact of your web site.

So, what is fundamental to this New Web

There are several things – HTTP, the light-weight protocol designed to transfer text, links and latterly data, across an internet previously used to specific protocols for specific purposes – HTML, that open, standard, easily copied light-weight extensible generic format for describing web pages that all browsers can understand – Microdata, RDFa, JSON, JSON-LD – open standards for easily embedding data into HTML – RDF, an open data format for describing things of any sort, in the form of triples, using shared vocabularies.  Building upon those is Schema.org – an open, [de facto] standard, generic vocabulary for describing things in most areas of interest. 

icon-LOVWhy is one vocabulary fundamental when there are so many others to choose from? Check out the 500+ referenced on the  Linked Open Vocabularies (LOV) site.  Schema.org however differs from most of the others in a few key areas:Schema.org square 

  • Size and scope – its current 642 Types and 992 Properties is significantly larger and covers far more domains of interest than most others.  This means that if you are looking to describe a something, you are highly likely to to find enough to at least start.  Despite its size, it is yet far from capable of describing everything on, or off, the planet.
  • Adoption – it is estimated to be in use on over 12 million sites.  A sample of 10 billion pages showed over 30% containing Schema.org markup.  Checkout this article for more detail: Schema.org: Evolution of Structured Data on the Web – Big data makes common schemas even more necessary. By Guha, Brickley and Macbeth.
  • Evolution – it is under continuous evolutionary development and extension, driven and guided by an open community under the wing of the W3C and accessible in a GitHub repository.
  • Flexibility – from the beginning Schema.org was designed to be used in a choice of your favourite serialisation – Microdata, RDFa, JSON-LD, with the flexibility of allowing values to default to text if you have not got a URI available.
  • Consumers – The major search engines Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex, not only back the open initiative behind Schema.org but actively search out Schema.org markup to add to their Knowledge Graphs when crawling your sites.
  • Guidance – If you search out guidance on supplying structured data to those major search engines, you are soon supplied with recommendations and examples for using Schema.org, such as this from Google.  They even supply testing tools for you to validate your markup.

With this support and adoption, the Schema.org initiative has become self-fulfilling.  If your objective is to share or market structured data about your site, organisation, resources, and or products with the wider world; it would be difficult to come up with a good reason not to use Schema.org.

Is it a fully ontologically correct semantic web vocabulary? Although you can see many semantic web and linked data principles within it, no it is not.  That is not its objective. It is a pragmatic compromise between such things, and the general needs of webmasters with ambitions to have their resources become an authoritative part of the global knowledge graphs, that are emerging as key to the future of the development of search engines and the web they inhabit.

Note that I question if Schema.org is a fundamental component, of what I am feeling is a New Web. It is not the fundamental component, but  one of many that over time will become just the way we do things

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