Friday, February 26, 2010

Semiotics and the Semantic Web

. . . when computing entered the realm of images, a new dimension was added to cyperspace (taking it literally from 1D to 2D) and the term 'virtual reality' started to be more than a daydream. (Cadognety, 2002).

According to Wikipedia, semiotics is the study of sign processes (semiosis), or signification and communication, signs and symbols. What is interesting is that there is currently a great deal of research on semiotics and the Web, and a result, have an important natural link to the semantic web. Anything intended to signal meaning of some kind, signs on websites are especially important. Various kinds of meaning can be transmitted or 'signalled' by using an image, icon, label or a hyperlink of some fashion -- signs. According to the semiotic theory, signs have a significant (e.g. link label), a referent (e.g. actual page the link points to), an interpretant (e.g. the concept it signifies), and even a behaviour (e.g. the link mechanism itself). Signs of all types leverage existing content to express some kind of function (e.g. a thumbnail image used as link to a product) or affordance.

Philippe Codognet has been one of the preeminent researchers in the field of the semiotics of the web. In his article in 2002, Ancient Images and New Technologies: The Semiotics of the Web, when the web was still in its infancy, Codognet points out that indexical images, which we use in navigating the multimedia documents which make up the web, can be based on the study of semiotics, and can be traced back to the classical thinkers such as Gottfried Liebniz and C.S. Peirce. In other words, instead of viewing the Semantic Web as something entirely novel, we must look at the core roots of the web, which is really just an organization of data, documents, and images - conceptually meshed in contemporary computer-based communication.

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