Quadruple your Triples

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…structured data markup triples, that is…

Have you ever wondered why social networks and online communities (from review and recommendation sites to directories and online databases) are so good at predicting who you know and where and what you want to eat? For some years, they’ve been using one form or another of structured data markup, a special form of standardized, highly annotatable markup embedded in their fields and forms. When you fill in, e.g., your name, the markup identifies you as a “real person” in the places on the page where search engines look for that kind of detail. It’s invisible to a human visiting the page, but because it’s standardized (it means the same thing to all the spiders and databases out there), every crawler will be able to recognize it and add it to its own data library and — here’s the important bit — to the global Web of linked data. Which is why social networks are so good at guessing who you know: they simply scan the connections between the “real you” and the other “real people” whom you share work experience, schooling, affiliations or locations or interests with, all of which is neatly contained in these structured markup fields.

Structured Markup, Natural Language & Contextual Understanding

With Web search results transitioning away from keyword matching to natural language and contextual understanding, website owners should consider using structured data markup themselves. Actually, the decision isn’t whether to implement or not, it’s which version to implement. Something this useful shouldn’t be confined in the silo of a social network. It most likely belongs on your site. The specifications are freely published, and adding it to a page is no more expensive than having a page done in HTML in the first place.

Structured data markup lets you add all sorts of “descriptions” or “annotations” to a webpage. Like HTML, it’s not visible to human visitors. Unlike HTML, it carries rich detail that search engines and databases love. HTML is about document presentation. Structured data markup provides a standard, machine-processable mechanism to link things, and make connections and associations between them. For example, you can specify the relationship between people, places, facts, real world objects, goods and services, actions, even abstract concepts (i.e. not network retrievable), and yes, documents. One widely used version of structured data markup works through expressing statements as “triples” (subject → predicate → object). Not only do these annotations “anchor” you across the linked data Web and improve search visibility (because machines understand “you” better), they also provide a richer user experience by embedding your content as rich snippets, images, video, ratings, reviews and location information in search results.

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