Several years ago, at the 2008 NAGW conference just outside of Chicago, IL, I gave a talk about the coming of Web 3.0. Fast forward a few years to yesterday, when I was trolling about on the Internet and came across the explanation of Google’s Knowledge Graph – a GUI for the technical stuff I presented to government web developers those few years ago. The presentation is embedded below and, while it’s 4 years old and a bit outdated, it does still describe the underpinnings of the Semantic Web, mostly. No mention of HTML5 resources, of course, and some of the stuff I mentioned didn’t really pan out…
But, I checked today – just to see if one of my predictions came true. In the presentation, I said that with the proper coding of the web with semantic markup, search engines would become very powerful – able to answer questions asked in native English. So I went to Google and entered the same phrase I’d used in the presentation – “who starred in both saturday night fever and pulp fiction” and got the answer – John Travolta’s wikipedia page is the 4th response and the 3rd response shows a video clip with him featured in it. The future is here!!
All that being said, we aren’t yet at a “good enough” place – anyone who has spent more than a few minutes fighting with Siri can tell you that there are improvements to be made. Google is making those improvements, though, and pretty soon our patrons will be asking Google the exact same questions they are asking us at the reference desk – and finding the answers. This doesn’t mean reference librarians will become obsolete – it means that reference librarians will become the resource of choice for those who need more than a simple answer to a simple question. That’s what reference librarians are good at, so I’m not concerned about the “future of the profession” in that regard, but it is something that we’ll want to keep an eye on!
Until our patrons become universally wired into the ‘net (if that ever happens…), we have a way to get those simple questions answered now without resorting to fancy boolean statements and we have a way, with Google’s knowledge graph, to point our patrons to even more information about their subject, should they want it.