“Semantic web” is one of those phrases that’s tossed around loosely these days, used to describe just about anything that goes beyond basic keyword search to surface relevant content on the web. But true semantic web applications, those that enable people to share content beyond the boundaries of applications or web sites, are still relatively few and far between.
That’s what makes Headup, a new Firefox plugin from the aptly named SemantiNet, so intriguing. Headup monitors your web activity, and based on what you’re viewing can seamlessly and contextually “understand” how dispersed data across the Web is related to what you’re viewing. Then it provides snippets or links to that information without the need to search for it.
Even more intriguing, Headup has seemingly leapfrogged most current approaches to building out the semantic web that require web sites and applications to add layers of metadata conforming to a rigorous set of standards. Instead, Headup uses Microsoft’s new Silverlight platform to analyze content in real-time, without requiring any additional information from web sites.
How does this work?
According to Tal Keinan, Founder & CEO SemantiNet, Headup uses a sort of meta database—a graph that describes which sources can provide which types of information about certain things. It also taps into your social networks to leverage the information your friends have left scattered about the web. Then, as you’re surfing the web, Headup constantly compares what you’re looking at with this meta database and your friends’ knowledge to offer you additional information when it’s available. And it’s unobtrusive, displaying a ‘+’ symbol next to the relevant content. Clicking on this symbol brings up a separate window with related links and other information.
For example, say you’re browsing a music CD on Amazon. Headup recognizes that you’re reading about music, so it goes to work and shows you things like:
- How many of your Facebook friends like this band
- A link to hear the band’s latest music streamed via Pandora
- Links to let you see band pictures on Flickr
- How to find tickets for a concert by the band in your city via Zvents
- How many of your friends are using Twitter or Friendfeed to discuss the upcoming concert
- What restaurants near the concert hall are top-rated by Yelp
Currently, Headup is limited to pulling in information from the services mentioned above, and a few others including Digg, Gmail, Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia. Keinan says SemantiNet is working to add many other sources, but wanted to start out with this smallish set to get feedback from users. Eventually, he said he expects Headup to work with a huge number of web sites.
What’s with the mashup of Firefox and Microsoft’s Silverlight? SemantiNet says Silverlight offers user privacy capabilities that far exceed Flash and also allows Headup to work as a cross-platform PC/Mac product.
Headup is similar to Adaptive Blue’s Blueorganizer plugin for Firefox, which adds a button to your toolbar with a menu containing contextual shortcuts for books, music, movies, wines, recipes, stocks and other types of info. But Headup appears to go much deeper, with a broader array of content types.
Headup launched today in a limited beta release, so I’m going to wait to take a deep dive into the technology until it becomes more widely available. But I’m impressed with what I’ve seen so far, and the tool looks like it’s well on the way to becoming an invaluable part of my searching toolkit.
- Headup’s website
- SemantiNet’s website (try signing up for the limited beta here)
- The Semantic Web, by Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler and Ora Lassila—one of the best introductions to the topic, by the creator of the original world wide web.