In my work as an Information Architect, I’ve increasingly been drawn to cross-website classification and relationship definition methods like Facebook’s Open Graph, Schema.org, and Microformats.org. For the un-indoctrinated, these are code systems which allow websites to add metadata to semantic elements on the web to help machines provide additional context and meaning to content. With three different standards to choose from, I’ve often wondered which to implement on our clients’ behalf.
While microformats and rich snippets have been around for years, its only been the last 24 or so months where their usage has become a must for most web projects. I’d point to a watershed moment a couple years back when Facebook really started to gain momentum as a platform for brands to setup shop and interact with their customers / audiences. It was at this time that we in the business were having a difficult time dealing with the many ‘phantom’ places, businesses, employers, and other Open Graph nodes that would pop up and become associated with a brand.
What was happening was that Facebook was automatically creating these ‘properties’ based on links, geographic information, and user profile data and other sources like Wikipedia entries for example.
Clients were often up in arms about how Facebook could go ahead and just create pages without their consent. (Some even inquired about legal action!) Luckily, things have generally calmed down as most people have become accustomed to the phenomenon of Facebook or other entities creating web properties on their behalf.
In any event, over the past year or so, Facebook has been amassing a HUGE collection of open graph nodes as brands eager to participate in the Facebook ecosystem have taken steps to more accurately depict themselves using Open Graph terminology. The fear I would imagine from competing enterprises would be that if Facebook were able to continue along this path in out-contextualizing items on the web, they may be able to further lure sheeple and businesses into the Micro-net that is Facebook.
Google Is On The Scene Big Time
I’ve witnessed a variety of trends which point to Google wanting desperately to begin to create its own method to offer contextualized information.
Schema.org – Roughly six months ago, I started seeing a concerted effort by Google to promote the use of Schema.org code in websites through updating the Webmaster Tools Help content to include step by step directions as well as utilities to help developers create compliant code.
Google Docs Research Pane – This week, Google introduced a new feature to Google Docs which provides contextual content suggestions (definitions, photos, etc.) in a sidebar pane.
YouTube Auto Created Channels – I’m not sure when these automatically generated channels started sprouting up, but YouTube now has a variety of auto-generated, topic-specific collections of videos one can subscribe to. I would assume its using meta-data and tagging to help create these channels and would also assume that this content will be available via search, research, and in social contexts.
Google Search – Just this week, Google started promoting what they are calling the Knowledge Graph. Similar to Facebook’s Open Graph, Google’s Knowledge Graph will bring relevant, contextual information to users.
- Watch for Google to roll out ever-increasing levels of interconnectedness across its properties based on Schema.org meta-data. Products, Recipes, Places, People, Media
- Look for a big tie-in with Google +, possibly in the white space area that generated so much conversation during the latest redesign.