Why Churches Should Care About the Semantic Web

close-up of dictionary entry for webmaster

A common phrase in the web community is that “content is king”. If it is indeed king, then context is the kingdom. The most recent change in context is the advent of mobile devices. Yet another shift in context is on the horizon called the semantic web. I will now explain what it is and why you should care.

Computers like data such as text that can be parsed, indexed, and made searchable. However more meaning can be added to this data. In previous articles I urged content developers to add structure to their pages. By adding page titles and a hierarchy of headings, you serve many audiences. Most of your users will see a nice visual hierarchy of information that is pleasing to look at as well as easy to skim and read. Yet to your benefit, search engines can determine what snippets of text are more important. Lastly, you help screen reading software for vision impaired users easily skim and summarize your content.

Google search of Microsoft
An example of how Google can parse into your site and provide easier access to key areas

The Semantic Web takes this a step further and adds another layer of information. By adding additional semantic tags to text, content such as addresses and phone numbers receive special attention from search engines and other applications. Early stages of this information can be seen with Google search. Their web crawlers are able to peer into a site’s structure and provide a high-level map of the top ranking website right in your search results. But this is just one example of an application extrapolating data. New tools like Apple’s Siri and Google glasses are pieces of hardware and software that work together in a mobile space. This adds a distinct layer of complexity and relevancy by incorporating your surroundings into context.

What pieces of data from your website can be used in applications such as Siri are not just helping you surf the web? They are accessing information embedded all over the Internet and providing it right to you, not as web search results with links to pages, but as information right in the application. Imagine if someone using Siri or a similar application “Give me directions to (your church name here) in (your town here)”. Because your website has proper semantic data, the address returned, which launches their GPS navigation application, and they are on their way to your front door.

Google Glasses are taking things a step further by actually layering information directly over your view of the world. They are streaming information like GPS directions and weather reports, displaying queries and images, taking video and photographs, and so much more. This level of interaction with the world you see in front of you is unparalleled with any other consumer product at this time. However, given the proper preparation, this technology will be able to interact with your church, its ministries, and outreach programs.

Action Item

Educate yourself on the Semantic Web. If you have not heard of this, or think it is a little technical, calm down. This is a developing technology that is slowly being adopted around the web. Just remember that mobile-friendly websites were first thought about as early as 2007. It seemed so far off that nobody worried about it. Now churches, as well as multi-billion dollar companies, are scrambling to catch up in that space because they were caught flat footed with the flood of smartphone and tablet users. I am warning you now in 2013, learn from their mistakes and get your church website and its data out in front of the Semantic Web!

Note: This article was inspired by Paul Boag‘s discussion on the Semantic Web.

Photo courtesy of Melvin Kwan

Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.