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Adrian Dale - Creatifica Associates
Creatifica Associates Ltd.
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Google edges towards a more structured universe

Google is taking its next steps towards recognising and using the structure of well coded web resources (Google rich snippets).   Reading this announcement would leave the average information scientist/architecture alternately bursting with excitment or fuming with frustration.  Here are some quotes:

A lot of previous work on structured data has focused on debates around encoding. Even within Google, we have advocates for microformat encoding, advocates for various RDF encodings, and advocates for our own encodings. But after working on this Rich Snippets project for a while, we realized that structured data on the web can and should accommodate multiple encodings: we hope to emphasize this by accepting both microformat encoding and RDFa encoding. Each encoding has its pluses and minuses, and the debate is a fine intellectual exercise, but it detracts from the real issues.

We do believe that it is important to have a common vocabulary: the language of object types, object properties, and property types that enable structured data to be understood by different applications. We debated how to address this vocabulary problem, and concluded that we needed to make an investment. Google will, working together with others, host a vocabulary that various Google services and other websites can use. We are starting with a small list, which we hope to extend over time.

How many years have we fought the battle for adding structure against the tide of “Google doesn’t need/use it”?  And now straight from the horses mouth at Google is recognition of the value of metadata and structured vocabulary!

This is of course excellent news but there has been some negative comment from Ian Davis (Google’s RDFa a damp squib) who questions why Google hasn’t just adopted existing standards.

Google has also announced Google Squared and Google  New Search Options probably an attempt to respond to the WolframAlpha launch. Again both exciting developments that have opened up a new front for the information professional.  This whole debate will be a major theme at Online 2009.

What a turn around for Google! Two years ago at Online 2007 a Google salesman announced the death of metadata – “Google pays no attention to the structure of web pages and doesn’t need web masters to do any tagging.”   This met with some derision from delegates but many were resigned to Google’s muscle wiping out their love of structure.

However, this salesman wasn’t being strictly accurate.  Anyone who has studied the structure of Google results pages will know that contents the <title> tag is displayed from html pages as is the contents of <meta  name=”description” content=”abcd” />. 

For MS Office and PDF documents, Google can and usually does (but not always!) display the contents of the title properties if they appear meaningful.  This has caught out many a government department in UK as many authors and web masters don’t check the contents of the title field.

So structure is finally returning to the information world – and not before time!

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