Semantic Filtering

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By Russ Ward (@russcward)

Wait, wait, come back!

I know words like “semantic filtering can make non-tech people cringe and tune out.

But I promise, this will be a user-friendly post. And it needs to be, because as these technologies change, and continue to change, so will all of our online experiences – not just those of backroom coders and geeks.

The semantic web is, increasingly, upon us. When Sir Tim Berners-Lee first coined the phrase in 2001 in this article in Scientific American, it probably seemed, well, a lot like the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey – impossibly futuristic and maybe a little creepy.

Were not quite at the place he and his co-authors envisioned, where a device could take a command given in a conversational manner and, just as your grammar-school teachers exhorted, “understand the context clues – figure out exactly what you needed, search for it, compile it, and deliver it back to you in a complete summary. Still, though, we are getting close.

  • Google search algorithms are constantly updated to learn to read context, so that when you search for “Elmwood Park West Elmwood City 12345 it knows whether youre looking for an establishment called “Elmwood Park West or youre looking for a park in “West Elmwood City.
  • Music databases like Pandora and iTunes Genius recommend songs to you based upon a highly sophisticated analysis of songs youve said that you liked.

We enjoy an experience most when things just work: when you dont have to remember an arbitrarily precise command structure or an elaborate sequence. Think back to when you were little and you were told, “you dont mean ¢‚ǨÀúcan I, you mean ¢‚ǨÀúwill I. It was frustrating, when you just wanted an answer, to be corrected on your phrasing. But while learning social manners certainly has its place, learning the “manners of specific programming languages doesnt necessarily benefit anybody – so more and more, developers are creating ways around that.

The question is, how can we take the concepts behind the semantic web and bring them into our work in pharma?

Its really nothing new and scary; its thinking the same way we always have. What do our end users – our stakeholders and customers – need? Whats the easiest way for them to ask for it? How can we do all the behind-the scenes work to get them what they need as soon as possible?

Review your websites. Better yet, gather your eight-year-old niece, your grandmother, and two of your neighbors, and then review your websites. Ask what theyd look for, and see how quickly they can find it. Then show them your competitors websites.

Find out where your customers are going for information. What other websites, what organizations, what doctors, what communities are they asking for help? Why do they go to those places, and what do they get out of going there?

The day may come when semantic logic means we, and our customers, can find answers easily. But until then, its incumbent upon us to make sure that were making the way as smooth as possible.

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