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What is Semantic Search?: The Future of Search and How It Is Impacting The World

Updated on May 12, 2014
susi10 profile image

Susan is a science geek, and if that wasn't enough, she gets all nerdy over technology too. She is also a writer too.

Semantic search is definitely a leap into the future and modernism!
Semantic search is definitely a leap into the future and modernism! | Source

What is Semantic Search?

Semantic search is an intuitive technology which deals very effectively with the words that you type into the search box. Instead of looking at the keywords, it looks at your intent behind the keywords (even if you didn't type them at all), why you want to know more about that topic and what the ideal results are for you.

As well as search, you may notice biographies of people appeaing on the right side of the page, or descriptions of places. These techniques are also part of semantic search and are beginning to answer questions that the user may have.

If you are signed into your Google account, it uses your personality and interests to see what kind of person you are and then matches this with results. It is no longer a "one size fits all" technology but one that deals with the individual and their personality.

Semantic search is a huge leap into the era of complete modernism, and affects billions of searchers every day. This hub will focus on how semantic search is changing the face of search forever, its impacts and benefits plus extra tools you may find interesting. For some time travel into the future of technology and Google, let's go!

Semantic search is going to change search as we know it.
Semantic search is going to change search as we know it. | Source
Here are some words that describe semantic search...intuitive, fast and speedy.
Here are some words that describe semantic search...intuitive, fast and speedy.

Are you in favour of semantic search?

See results

Semantic Search...A Hidden Technology?

By just taking a look at the title above, many would think that semantic search is a new way to search which is in development and ready to be implemented. However, Google have already been doing so behind our backs. They are shifting from the "keywords and ranking" approach to giving the user a more intelligent response. If you search a query today, you are more than likely going to be taking advantage of semantic search in many ways. It is there in front of us, we use it everyday, but do we know what it really is?

By definition, what is semantic search? According to Wikipedia, semantic search is:

"Semantic search seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding searcher intent and the contextual meaning of terms as they appear in the searchable dataspace,"

Semantic search receives the keywords that you type, let's say into Google and knows exactly what your intent behind those keywords were even though you didn't type them. It does not use its solid, computational methods to find the answer you are looking for but rather, gives you answers like a human would. It does not focus entirely on Page Rank or mathematical methods to find its results, but uses techniques such as:

  • Graphs - Finding relationships and patterns behind words and using synonyms to replace them.
  • Fuzzy Logic - In mathematics, a question or query can only be "true" or "false". This is also true for computer science, which makes use of many mathematical concepts. However, in fuzzy logic, an answer can be "in-between|" or on the fence. It does not deal with the extremes of 1 and 0, but with the knowledge that it already has to simulate a partial or truthful answer.

These techniques combine to give semantic search but obviously, a lot of mathematical and programming concepts convey and bring about semantic search. But the general principles of semantic search are in the list above.

Search engines no longer want to use their algorithms to deliver the searcher their results, they want engines that can act like humans to deliver them. They find out why the searcher wants to research the topic, what their intent was and what their keywords mean. They do this by getting to know the searcher. They do this through checking browsing history, social media channels and so on. Whilst this may sound a little intrusive, it is part and parcel of today's technology which brings us only the best.

Semantic search is similar to mind reading, the code knows which results appeal to you more and which ones give the most informative answers. It is intuitive...and almost human.

Semantic search is like having a robot analysing the data and giving you responses like a human would.
Semantic search is like having a robot analysing the data and giving you responses like a human would. | Source

The Beginnings of a Sci-Fi Idea

Semantic is a Greek word meaning "knowledge" and it relates to the study of meaning. This definition can be seen in "Wolfram Alpha", a semantic search engine. It classifies itself as a computational knowledge engine. Instead of giving us links related to the answer, it gives us the answer itself.

Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin dreamed of creating a supercomputer similar to the one in Star Trek which answers any question you ask it. Ten years ago, this was a near fantasy because their search engine only found the relevant links that contained those keywords or question that people searched for.

However, with time, they began to experiment with semantic search ideas and began to create the "Knowledge Graph", a graph that contains all the world's data and websites which are categorised under different nodes. It was released in 2012. Did you ever see the mini biography of a famous person beside the search results? That is the knowledge graph in action.

The "Related People" box, is achieved by seeing that those two names are somewhat connected on the Knowledge Graph, whether they are married or appear on the same TV Show.

With Google's latest algorithm change, "Hummingbird", they have implemented semantic search to its greatest by using the Knowledge Graph to its full potential.

A Dream In Reality?

During an I/O Conference in May 2013, Amit Singhal, representing Google as senior vice president had a famous talk in which he addressed how he wanted Google to become similar to the computer in Star Trek (he was a great fan of Star Trek) where you could ask it any question and an accurate and informational answer would be given. This is Google's goal, to create a supercomputer that can calculate and answer just about anything. This dream is no loner sci-fi but we need a lot of work to get there. Larry Page stated that he did not want people to be stuck searching for things on Google, "It should just happen".

The Impact of Semantic Search

The theory sounds good and all, but seeing it in action is a lot more satisfying. Currently, Google are impacting search through:

  • Knowledge Graph - This is the brain of semantic search and is the object that is controlling the whole process. People, places and objects become "things, not strings", which was famously quoted on the Google Blog. They are no longer inanimate words which the bots don't recognise but actual objects that the bots know about. Before, if you typed in "Paris" or "Oprah Winfrey", you would have been given an entire list of results, probably containing a Wikipedia entry. Now, at least half the screen is taken up by Google's biography/description of the person or place. The algorithms are able to recognise that, "Hey! Paris is a place, so the user will want to know about the city, Paris, not the word spelled P-a-r-i-s." This kind of intelligence is vital to reaching a search engine that recognises just about anything, and no longer thinks of it as a w-o-r-d or as coders like to call it, a s-t-r-I-n-g.

Semantic Search In Action

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Semantic search can clearly be seen on the right, which conists of a mini bio about a certain person. Look! It is our favourite author, J.K Rowling!Historical figures such as the poet, William Wordsworth (poet famous for "Daffodils") also display their biography.
Semantic search can clearly be seen on the right, which conists of a mini bio about a certain person.
Semantic search can clearly be seen on the right, which conists of a mini bio about a certain person.
Look! It is our favourite author, J.K Rowling!
Look! It is our favourite author, J.K Rowling!
Historical figures such as the poet, William Wordsworth (poet famous for "Daffodils") also display their biography.
Historical figures such as the poet, William Wordsworth (poet famous for "Daffodils") also display their biography.
  • Answering The Query For You - There is no need to go trawling through question and answer websites such as Ask.com when you can get the answer in Google's results! Google now answers questions you may have, such as "What time is it?" , "latitude of New York" or "Stephen Hawking age". If you try this for yourself, you will see the answer appear on a little tile on the top of the results.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
What is Stephen Hawking's age? There you go! You can also ask Google to translate words. The best command to use is "translate dog into French". Asking numerical questions such as the height of the Eiffel Tower can also be done.
What is Stephen Hawking's age? There you go!
What is Stephen Hawking's age? There you go!
You can also ask Google to translate words. The best command to use is "translate dog into French".
You can also ask Google to translate words. The best command to use is "translate dog into French".
Asking numerical questions such as the height of the Eiffel Tower can also be done.
Asking numerical questions such as the height of the Eiffel Tower can also be done.
  • Providing Tools - Google now provide all kinds of everyday tools that we all need in their search results. Try searching "calculator" and there you go, a calculator appears! It is easy to use and doesn't require you to waste time looking for one on your computer! Other tools include stock price checkers, currency converters and imperial to metric converters (mass, distance and speed).

I have found these tools to be extremely handy especially if I don't have a calculator handy to do the formulas for changing km to miles and so forth. Many people don't know about this feature and it is all thanks to semantic search!

Tools Galore!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Converting imperial measurements to metric has never been easier. This currency converter can change euro to dollar and vice versa. It works with any currency and has up to date information. You can check the stock prices of various companies from the morning to the closing bell with this handy tool. Google's calculator is very handy to have.
Converting imperial measurements to metric has never been easier.
Converting imperial measurements to metric has never been easier.
This currency converter can change euro to dollar and vice versa. It works with any currency and has up to date information.
This currency converter can change euro to dollar and vice versa. It works with any currency and has up to date information.
You can check the stock prices of various companies from the morning to the closing bell with this handy tool.
You can check the stock prices of various companies from the morning to the closing bell with this handy tool.
Google's calculator is very handy to have.
Google's calculator is very handy to have.

Try These Searches!

To Demonstrate...
Type>>>
What You'll Get
Currency Converter
"currency converter" or "dollars to euro"
A converter tool which will convert one currency to another through input.
Song Lists
"Pink Floyd song list" or "katy perry song list"
A complete list of all the songs by a particular artist or band. By clicking on one of the songs, you can hear the song via a YouTube video.
Biography
The person you want more info on, eg: "Steve Jobs" or "Jennifer Lawrence"
A quick two sentence about who they are and what they do. The bio also includes details on their spouse, children, when they were born and so forth.
Stock Prices
"Google stock price" or "amazon stock price"
You can check the stock price of any company and see how well it is performing.
Translate
"translate flower to italian"
You will get a translation of any word to another langugae. Most languages work, except Japanese and Chinese.
Calculator
"calculator" or "scienific calculator"
By typing calculator, you get a basic calculator which can operate arithmetic and you can also use the functionality of a scientific calculator which includes sin, cos, tan and pi.
The table above summarises how you can see a demonstration of semantic search within the various headings.

Real Content, Real People!

Google want to see that as an author, you are a verifiable person who can be trusted.
Google want to see that as an author, you are a verifiable person who can be trusted. | Source

Taking Advantage

Semantic search is being implemented more and more each year. Before long, we will see semantic search across all search engines and it will become at its most dominant. It is the future and we need to know how to fully take advantage as searchers and any of us who are content creators or bloggers. The semantic web is changing and we need to know the next generation of how to make an impact on the web, whether its creating a Facebook page, writing articles online or starting your own business. The question is - how?

Google are shifting to semantic search through many new SEO techniques, in other words, their ranking algorithms. How they determine where to rank websites and articles is changing. There are two main factors that are getting rid of spam websites with keyword-rich content and replacing them with real authors who are passionate about what they do and want to make a change. Currently this is done through:

"The Big One" - Social Media

Google want people and people need Google. If any author wants to impact online, they need as much Google traffic as they can get. Unfortunately, link-building and keyword stuffing just won't cut it anymore. Google's algorithms are getting so sophisticated that you will just get penalised and end up wishing you never did anything.

Search engines are sick and tired of people who can appear with a name on one website, disappear and pop up again the next week with another name. To get rid of these, Google have put a bigger emphasis on social media and tied it in with semantic search. The social media that every content creator needs is Google+.

Google want to verify that you are a real person, with a real passion for writing, painting, developing apps, or whatever your business is. To verify who you are and how much you can be trusted with your content, Google want to reward you. By joining Google+ and verifying your Authorship, you will receive plenty benefits.

You are showing Google that you are the perfect author with many circles on Google+, you have good quality content and you have pages which generated comments and shares. Google will reward you by ranking you much higher than anyone else.

This ties in with semantic search because it allows Google to see what kind of a person you are, who you are following on Google+ and what you search for. If someone comes along and does a search who may be similar to you, they will match these results and put you on the first page. Google is becoming a network of people, not necessarily pages.

The image is difficult to read, but it is basically showing us the power of having a high social media impact. The first circled result has an author in 700,000 Google Circles, the second is in 7497 circles whilst the third is in 2500 circles.
The image is difficult to read, but it is basically showing us the power of having a high social media impact. The first circled result has an author in 700,000 Google Circles, the second is in 7497 circles whilst the third is in 2500 circles.

Interesting Questions To Ask WolframAlpha

As well as your usual answers, you can ask WolframAlpha some very strange and funny questions. They can even include philosophical and deep questions. WolframAlpha will come up with some crazy answers! WolframAlpha has a slight tendency to be humorous at times.

  • Where am I?
  • Who are you?
  • What am I?
  • What is a human?
  • How many atoms in the universe?
  • What's cooler than being cool?
  • What's the meaning of life?
  • Why?

Knowledge Computational Engines - Ask Them Any Question!

Google are not the only ones jumping on the semantic bandwagon - in fact, in comparison to other semantic search engines, they contain very little semantic technology at all. Seeing tools and a few questions answered for us in the search results covers only 20% of the page, the other 80%? The content creators and website owners are still depended on for those familiar eight links. Whilst Google is going semantic, there are many out there who are 100% semantic through and through.

They are known as 'knowledge computational engines' and can answer any question you ask them, guaranteed. These include WolframAlpha, Evi and perhaps, Siri (we've all had a lot of fun with her, I think).

The engine I am going to focus on is WolframAlpha, because it receives an incredible 3,000,000 hits a day, has a beautiful design and is the most functional. Created by Wolfram, in 2000, it had one intention, to answer any question you had without Google's solution, 'the links on a page answer' but by computing the answer itself. To fulfil this task is a huge feat because it gives the code enough intelligence to actually "think" of an answer rather than looking for pages with the same keywords on the web.

WolframAlpha can compute anything from the amount of stars in the sky to the amount of days you lived if you are 38 years old. It can translate words, even phrases from Latin to Japanese. It will give the meaning and history of your first name or a funny joke you want to hear about. It also can retrieve information from other sources, as part of the semantic web. This means that it can pull website traffic numbers from reputed websites such as Alexa and add this fact to a page about a certain website such as Facebook, HubPages or CNN.

It is the perfect semantic search engine which can compute just about anything. To see for yourself, head over to their website WolframAlpha, and type in a question you are dying to know the answer to. The results will surprise you!

Semantic Search In 100 Years

What will semantic search be like in 100 years? It is difficult to say because on one hand, technology could accelerate so much in 100 years that we will have a seamless transition from a want to a necessity - a supercomputer that can calculate anything and know who we are.

Or, we could become stuck in a rut and be faced by an obstacle that we cannot overcome. But in this era with so much worldwide collaboration, anything can be achieved. I think that in 100 years, semantic search will be part of our lives so much that we don't even realize its there any more.

Technology is accelerating at light speed, especially semantic search!
Technology is accelerating at light speed, especially semantic search! | Source

An Example

So is semantic search finally here? Are we fully embracing its infinite power? To answer this question, let's take a look at a scenario.

Kate is coming home from her office job in New York and is waiting for the subway to get her home. She wants to meet her friend in a coffee shop and stop for a bite to eat. She types into Google on her smartphone, "coffee shops" and gets some results. She finds out that there is a coffee shop only 400 metres away and has many excellent reviews. On her search results, she finds out that there are about 10 coffee shops within a 5 mile radius of her.

What actually happened? She did not even type "in New York" as part of her search so how did her smartphone recognise it? By the end of this hub, I hope you have learned the power of semantic search. Through doing so, her smartphone recognised her location, understood the meaning of the words "coffee shops" and searched for actual places which were near her location, perhaps related to her social connections on Google+ (maybe her friends gave a +1 to one of the coffee shops) and had excellent reviews. It then crystallized the results by including a map of all the possible areas, directions to her chosen coffee shop and maybe even a coffee shop with her favourite mocha blend (she may have searched for mocha recipes regularly on Google).

Her task was fulfilled and Google found this out through semantic search. This isn't going to end either, we should expect a lot more of semantic technology in the years to come.

What do you think of semantic search? Is it the future? I always appreciate comments and look forward to reading each and every one of them.

If semantic search continues to improve at its current pace, technology may have its golden era.

© 2014 Susan W

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    • susi10 profile image
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      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Harry - I am glad you enjoyed reading this and gained some useful insight into the latest Google algorithms. It is quite an interesting topic to learn about! Yes, you should definitely promote your hubs on Google+ and sign up for Google Authorship. For one way to rank high in Google, you should connect your HP account with your Google+ account and get into some circles. That way, Google will trust you and will rank you a lot higher than your competitors. Thanks for the fantastic comments!

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Joan - I agree, it is a very fascinating idea. I realized also that Google have used their Knowledge Graph to provide up to date information on the World Cup including match stats and team groups. It is a very handy feature to have and I am certain it will continue for other sporting events. Thanks for the comments!

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      You've covered some fantastic tips here and offered a good insight into how Google's algorithms work .. I'm now going actively promote my hubs on Google+ as much as on Twitter n Pinterest and see if it helps with traffic..

    • JoanCA profile image

      JoanCA 3 years ago

      I'm always doing research for articles, so a lot of my searches have little to do with my "personality and interests" although I do think it's a fascinating idea.

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Writer Fox - I am so glad that you enjoyed reading this hub, semantic search is something we all should get excited about. I am looking forward to seeing it planning out even more in the future. Thank you for the fantastic comments and the votes, they are always appreciated. :)

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Great information and I think you did a great job of explaining semantic search. Voted up! and Useful.

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      WestTel - I agree, at the current rate of development, Google will definitely reach the super computer in the coming decades. Semantic search will power this super computer and is already in action. I am glad you enjoyed this hub, thanks for the great comments!

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Cynthia - Thanks for the great comments and the vote up! I agree, semantic search IS making its way into our lives. It is new, exciting and intuitive, the world should be very pleased to see it come into full force in the coming years. I find it amazing that it "gets to know the searcher" and is able to understand the searches so well.

      You're right, today, it can really get some major searches wrong such as the restaurants in California as you mentioned. But, with improvements, these errors will be rectified. I can't wait to see more of what it can do to our lives. I appreciate your excitement and positivity! :)

    • susi10 profile image
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      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Flourish - I agree. Semantic search is very exciting indeed. Google will almost become like a mind-reader, who can almost predict when you will search, what you will search and why. At first it seems a little too futuristic and sci-fi, but their latest algorithm update has implemented advanced semantic search as their main priority. The power of semantics is only beginning.

      Whilst this technology is new, it is a very fascinating one and will keep me very intrigued as it pans out. I am looking forward to future updates to the world of semantics. In a couple of years, search engines will become so advanced that "it (your search) will just happen", stated by Larry Page. It should be effortless, and answer any question accurately and personally too. Most info online is generic but I think that semantic search could almost add some personalisation too. Technology is entering a very exciting stage! Thank you so much for such wonderful comments, I always appreciate them. I am very glad that you pinned this, thanks! :)

    • susi10 profile image
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      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Nathan - Thank you for the wonderful and insightful comments, how I agree! I wish that writers who wrote high quality articles or hubs would just be recognised more for what they do by being ranked higher on Google. For example, someone may not know how to apply SEO to their hubs but they could write a brilliant hub nonetheless that answers all the questions that a searcher may have. Google work on an algorithm at the end of the day and they will never use humans to rank the good articles from the bad ones. But, I think that semantic search will fix a lot of this as the algorithms are getting smarter with their ranking.

      A little social media and Authorship on Google+ would do no harm either. It seems that "social" is really going to take off in terms of semantic search. Already today, those with Authorship are nearly always on the first page of Google.

    • WestelCS profile image

      Tim Anthony 3 years ago

      Thank you for such an informative hub on Semantic search. However, it makes me wonder how accurately this idea is going on and seeing the present state of technology, and inventions already made by Google, no wonder that supercomputer may not be very far away to be implemented.

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Sparkley Finger - Semantic search is very exciting indeed, and it is already in practice. By conducting searches about people, looking for answers on questions or looking for tools, we are already seeing it in practice. Our smartphone are always using semantics to give accurate answers based on our location, interests and social media links. It is definitely a technology to be looked forward to!

    • susi10 profile image
      Author

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Beth - Thank you for the kind comments, I am glad that you understood how semantic search works. It can be a tricky topic to get your mind around but once you have a basic view of semantic search, the rest fits into place. The way semantic search works down to a coding level, is so complex. Don't get me started on it. I'm just glad that we, as searchers and authors can get the benefits out of it and avoid worrying about how it is actually done.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 3 years ago from Western NC

      I've noticed this semantic stuff - mostly when it "gets it wrong" haha. Today I was searching (on my smartphone) for "restaurants that serve breakfast" in Arden - I didn't put in NC because I've already picked up on the fact that the phone usually uses my location to calculate my results. Uf - this time it led me somewhere in California.

      But really, this hub is awesome and semantic technology IS making its way into our lives. I use it all the time. Voted up!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This was fascinating information -- well explained and written. The idea that Google could know what I need even if I don't is scary but exciting, too. We might reach a point where we don't need to articulate anything to computers or one another. I wonder what it will do to critical thinking skills and whether differences between people will grow or shrink based on the differential informational resources made available to them by such "smart" technologies. Voted way up++ and pinning. Superb.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      When Hummingbird came along, along with its semantic search, I had the feeling, too, that it would all make things better for writers, not just searchers. My logic was that writers wouldn't have to be bogged down with just keyword research and could just write. I don't know if that's where it's all going, but I think that would be nice.

      Thanks for the very detailed examination of semantic search. Very valuable information and inspiring in terms of possibilities in the future in addition to what is already happening.

    • sparkleyfinger profile image

      Lynsey Harte 3 years ago from Glasgow

      Great hub, interesting concept, and I look forward to seeing it in practice!

    • Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

      Beth Eaglescliffe 3 years ago from UK

      This is a great explanation of semantic search. Even technophobes like me can make sense of it after reading this hub.