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Labeling the web, one page at a time?

Tuesday, 23 September 2008 — by

Indexing every page on the web is challenge enough. Labeling each web page is something else entirely. Well that’s a recent idea of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, father of the Internet. Bad idea? Depends how you go about it, really…

Over on New Scientist, Tom Simonite wasn’t too impressed with the idea of labeling websites:

“There are plenty of arguments online already about whether Scientology is a cult. I find it unlikely anyone will be keen to step in and label sites on either side as not to be trusted. Others might reasonably argue that all religions – whether established or not – should come with a warning message.”

And he’s right. But then, so is Tim, too. You see, there’s merits to both sides of the argument.

For those familiar with the intricacies of the HTML standard, there’s already two meta tags called Rating and Classification. Quite rightly, they’re voluntary. And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure if they’re taken into account by the search engines. However, they offer a clue as to what might be possible if Tim’s idea of labeling websites was given some air to breath.

If you consider Social Media as a collective of indices, broken down into distinct topics, they’re self-organizing systems that you & I submit content to, classifying & labeling as we go. So in some small way — since Digg, StumbleUpon et cetera, collectively represent only a fraction of the total number of web pages — give us a glimpse of how Internet democracy is pretty much doing what Tim proposes right now.

It’s worth dwelling on the idea of a democratic system on the Internet for a moment, since it’s something I’ve given plenty of thought time to in the past. After all, the popularity of Social Media websites is not down to happenstance. Their popularity is down to a number of factors, one of which being that people can have their say, and that’s a powerful call-to-action for a lot of people.

In some ways, Digg contributed to the idea of democracy on the web, even if their brand of democracy is subject to the ‘Net equivalent of ballot rigging, but then so is democracy proper!

Tom Simonite’s example of how religious websites might be labeled is entirely valid, but it’s already happening behind the scenes right now, on forums and blogs all over the place.

Social Media can be seen as an intermediary layer, one of meta content, which we sift through, most of which is made up of content suggestions from friends. From time to time, if a friend says a particular website is a load of shit, you’re going to agree. So to some degree, Tom’s example is entirely real.

Ultimately, any kind of labeling or classification is unlikely to come down from on high, as some mandated law. Instead, it’ll either be elective, handed to you by the very people visiting your website, or both.

But that’s what’s great about the web — the people decide…

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Comment and be known

Kaitlyn → Tuesday, 30 September 2008 @ 1:14 BDT

I guess I’m confused as to the whole logistics of how the labeling would be done, and what the purpose would be. Sounds like a lot of work for no real benefit.

Wayne Smallman → Tuesday, 30 September 2008 @ 10:46 BDT

Hi Kaitlyn and thanks for the comment.

Answering your question depends on how familiar you are with the Semantic Web.

All kinds of amazing things become possible when websites are able to describe themselves in some meaningful way, or are self-classifying, as with the idea proposed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who is a major proponent of the Semantic Web.

Right now, there’s loads of applications that suggest things like nearest hotels, nearest restaurants et cetera, but most of those services rely entirely on people adding those websites to their directories or applications by hand.

If these websites can describe what they offer, there’s no need. Of course, it could open the way for a new kind or spamming, but if we had something that was both elective and democratic — in the sense that you & I could vote and comment on those websites, as we do with Digg and StumbleUpon — the bad would be separated from the good and things like hotels and restaurants would be much easier to find.

Does that make sense?

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