Friday, September 19, 2008

Semantic-Content Management

We've been developing a tool set, or framework, or whatever for several years. We call it "Tractare" which is Latin for "to handle, manage, perform". I'm a sucker for that kind of naming.

Anyway, what's it all about? Well, as the Internet becomes more saturated with raw information, keyword search engines really aren't enough to locate that needle in the haystack. We (content providers) need to describe our content in a way that users "get" -- we need to describe the "aboutness" of our content.

An example I like to use when speaking on this subject is this: If you were to use google to search for "retarded", you would get a gazillion hits. But few, if any of those hits would have come up using the politically correct phrase "intellectually challenged". This is because a keyword engine like google depends on the actual presence of the keyword, either as text in the content or as metadata. Now, you could encode both forms of this concept as meta-data on your web-page and it would be found. Now, if you are a psychologist or someone working in mental health, you'd probably be getting the results you want. But if you are a firefighter, the word "retarded" has a whole different meaning. How do we express that? The answer is in several parts of course. But first, we need to capture the meaning of the content; the "aboutness". We need to associate the "firefighter" concept with the content that pertains to fighting fires. This is what Tractare permits us to do.

Tracare is a framework. It's not an off-the-shelf product. It is built on the idea of topic maps -- organizing content around indexes and concepts. It's true power lies in a combination of searching and navigation tools that allow the user to narrow the scope of their work to a set of concepts. We build custom CMS and delivery solutions on top of it.

The CMS systems we build usually include features found in social networking, including folksonomies (as well as traditional taxonomy and classification support) and ranking/commenting. These features allow content providers to apply semantics to content in a number of new and different ways.

The delivery systems we build often include a number of search and navigation interfaces that web users have come to love, including mashups, classification searching, semantic browsing and so on.


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