Inside Yahoo I’m often the first one to tell people about the wonders of the Semantic Web. Typically, one of the first questions I get is: “but just how much of this metadata is out there?” And more often than I like to admit, my answer is not better than “tons”.
Why is this question difficult to answer? First, we don’t have a quantitative result: the crawls of existing Semantic Web search engines are likely to be partial, and certainly don’t include the bulk of metadata that is embedded inside webpages using microformats and RDFa. Second, the questioner most likely would like a qualitative answer: how much metadata is out there that people would actually care about?
And so the idea of microsearch was born. The idea was to create a search page that instead of hiding metadata, brings it to the front, thereby showing the user just how much metadata is out there for any given query. After a few months of hacking and tweaking and some more time spent on getting permissions to share with the world, I’m now happy to say that our demo is finally online, and you can try microsearch for yourself. Here are some examples: 1,2,3,4 and a screenshot for the first example:
Here is how it works in brief. You type in a query (say, your name). We gather the search results from our search engine and strip the metadata, including microformats of three known flavors (hCard, hCalendar, hReview), linked RDF and RDFa. The metadata is shown inside the abstracts as well as on a map and a timeline.
The map and the timeline work as aggregators, for example, in the third example above we show all events related to the query “san francisco conferences” on a single timeline. Further, in case pages can be related through the metadata we group them together. You can see this on the first example (shown on the screenshot). For the technologically minded, I’m using Java Servlets/JSP, Sesame, Elmo, the Simile Fresnel API, the Simile Timeline, Yahoo! Ajax Maps API and of course Yahoo! Search technology.
This is hardly the end of this story, but we are really curious about your feedback. So respond, comment here or drop me an email!
Disclaimer: this is not an indication if or how microformats and other forms of metadata would feature in Yahoo! products or services in the future. Also, it is a research prototype: use it long enough and it will break.