How Twitter Annotations Could Bring the Real-Time and Semantic Web Together

Just because the new iPhone arrived in stores today doesn’t mean the rest of the technology world shut down. In fact, today in San Francisco the 2010 Semantic Technology Conference continued its week-long series of talks and sessions about the semantic Web – the ability to understand and intelligently interpret content from the Web. A fascinating example of how the semantic Web is colliding with the real-time Web is through Twitter and the impending release of annotations – and Ph.D student Joshua Shinavier provided some fascinating semantic scenarios for their use.

Twitter posts already contain plenty of metadata that allows for smart filtering and organization, including date and location. With annotations, however, the metadata possibilities will be literally endless. Tweet metadata could eventually contain information or links based on words or phrases in the tweet itself, other options added to the tweet, or even other external data like the weather in the senders location at the time it was sent. Imagine being able to add an infinite number of hashtags to a post without wasting precious characters.

As Shinavier points out in his presentation (see slides above), Semantic databases could then plug into the annotation metadata and provide real-time semantic information to those who seek it. Using existing databases like GeoNames, Linked Movie Database and FOAF (Friend of a Friend), very specific searches for genres of tweets can be collected. Searchers could ask for tweets about “places in developing countries,” “English-language movies starring Chinese actors,” or “songs by artists my friends like,” says Shinavier.

Shinavier likens annotations to the real-time version of attributes from RDF (Resource Description Framework), which provide websites with extended semantic metadata. Since Twitter’s annotations will be easy to implement for developers, the sheer size of the network of use will create the “long tail” of real-time semantic data, he says. The application of the semantic Web to annotations will make it easier for developers to create richer applications, which benefits the end user.

In basic terms, the Web is getting smarter. Not Skynet smart, but smart, and with the mashup of the real-time fire-hose of information coming from services like Twitter, the semantic Web can provide even deeper and richer interactions for users. Personally, I am highly anticipating the release of annotations because I know brilliant developers are going to create amazing applications that leverage metadata. Throwing in semantic recognition only sweetens the pot.

Image from Flickr user Colectivo Mambembe.

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