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Just lately I’ve been really interested in finding out Google’s position on semantic technologies and their view on the Semantic Web.

I’d been asked before whether Google were making any efforts in developing semantic technology, but I couldn’t really say. Then I attended the Googleworld debate, at London’s ICA, but couldn’t really find the chance to pose any technical questions.

In an attempt to satisfy my curiosity – and anyway, to investigate something I believe to be of interest that, as far as I can find, hasn’t received any real attention to date – I wrote an open letter, of sorts, forwarded to Google and Semantic Web researchers I’ve found connected to Google, simply asking:

What’s the deal?

Dear Google,

My name is Marc Hibbins, I write a blog I’m sure you wouldn’t have read, I tend to cover new web technologies, online trends, my own development issues, but I’m also extremely interested in the Semantic Web.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve become increasing interested in finding out Google’s position, or just their ideas even, on the Semantic Web and semantic technologies. I recently wrote about the increase in tech blogs covering the subject over the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been asked a few times – what’s Google up to?

I also recently attended a debate called ‘Googleworld’ – it covered, generally, the past ten years of Google and what’s to come. I wrote about it, and the chair of the meeting replied that he too, is unaware of Google’s position.

Could you shed any light on the topic? Having had a thorough look around online, I’ve found next to nothing. I’m extremely intrigued to find out if Google have any plans with semantic technology – or even if there’s any in place already that just might not be so visible?

If you’ve no plans, do you have any comments? Do you think it’ll even ever happen?

Kindest regards,

Marc Hibbins

I wasn’t sure what kind of response I’d get, if any at all. Or if anybody I did get in touch would be wary of offering any insight that might be misinterpreted as any ‘official’ position.

To my surprise, my first response came from executive ‘Google Fellow’ Jeff Dean. He works in the Systems Infrastructure Group (crawling, indexing and query systems – full bio here), but he couldn’t initially offer any real strong thoughts on the issue. He did say however, that he wasn’t sure if Google even had any real position on the subject at all. If nothing, at least this confirmed that my lack of findings wasn’t down to only an absence of research published externally from Google – or poor investigative work on my part.

My second reply was from Stefan Decker, professor at the National University of Ireland, Galway and director of the Digital Enterprise Research Institute, an internationally recognised institute in Semantic Web and web science research. He co-presented a very interesting Google Tech Talk last year, and worked in Stanford at the same group as Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

He said, very explicitly, that:

In short: The Google management does not believe in meta-data.

Craig Silverstein is on record several times negatively of talking about the topic, as well as Sergey Brin. It is very clear that they are not proactive – a serious mistake from my point of view.

Interesting. I got in touch with his co-speakers, Eyal Oren and Sebastian Kruk. Both said they have contacts at Google still, but neither are aware of any public developments.

Eyal pointed me toward Sindice, a semantic search engine and index as perhaps (though only speculatively – as likely any search engine), might one day receive interest from Google. Perhaps to incorporate their infrastructure for RDF and semantic data consumption. But as he said, there’s absolutely no evidence of it right now.

Sebastian on the other hand described the lack of address specifically as:

[Their] ‘anti-semantic’ approach.

An increasing trend he’s recognised. Suggesting an almost concious movement against any such development. He also expressed his disappointment at the very low turn out at the Tech Talk, that literally only one attendee showed any real interest.

My final response was initially the most exciting – from Ramanathan V. Guha, who leads development of Google Custom Search. He said he’d be happy to comment on what’s going on, although could only offer his own personal opinion and nothing official – but I’ve not received any correspondence from him since.

All in all, at least I know I’ve not overlooked anything major. Fingers crossed I get a response back from Guha, but otherwise I guess I’m left keeping a close eye out for any other developments.

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3 Comments

  1. I understand Googles ‘anti-semantic’stance — IF you look at the index they are building and the way we humans search, you inevitable end up with a semantic database from the queries and natural links being made by humanity without ever having to spend time and money on researchers forging ahead with there own semantic understanding of our abilities. That which relates will inevitably be understood within groups that showcase their relation.

  2. Andrew,

    Interesting comment. I agree that if Google were to introduce any significant semantic technology they’ve no choice but to evolve something from the bottom up, working with what they already practice, rather than as you say to invest a considerable amount in some kind of architectural overhaul or regeneration.

    I was going to write about Google’s new SearchWiki. Although far more of a local personalisation tool, it would be great to see if Google could operate on the mass of data it could gather, to unfold and reinforce those naturally forging links – perhaps also to strengthen them, with the possibility to feed back into their index and databases, organically enriching the platform.

  3. “The semantic web is the future of the web and always will be” – Peter Novig. See http://www.justin.tv/hackertv/98128/Peter_Norvig_Director_of_Research_Google

    I think that sums it up pretty well…


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By Is This It « Marc Hibbins on 07 Jan 2009 at 11:53 am

    […] tried to find out before what Google have been up to concerning semantic technology but found little. The coverage over at […]

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