Recently I started to talk about the project I am currently working on and people were wondering what it was. “Hey, what Zitgist is about Fred?” – “I heard a couple of things but I can’t find any information about it” – Etc. So I started to gives away some information about Zitgist (pronounced “zeitgeist”), what it was, what were the goals, etc.

Zitgist is basically a semantic web search engine. Some people could be wondering about what is a semantic web search engine? In what is it different from more traditional search engines such as Google, Yahoo! or MSN Search? It only differs in the information it aggregates, index and use to answer users queries. Instead of using human readable documents such as HTML, PDF or DOC, Zitgist will use semantic web documents (RDF).

The characteristic of these documents is that they describe things. In fact, these documents can describe anything: a person (its interests, its relations with other people, etc.), objects like books, music CDs; projects (computer projects, architectural projects, etc.), geographical locations such as countries, cities, mountains, etc. So, with semantic web documents one can describe virtually anything.

Since Zitgist is aware of the meaning of all these descriptions, powerful queries can be sent by users to let them find what they want. By example, a Zitgist user could send queries such as:

  • Give me the name of the people that are interested in writing leaving near London.
  • Give me the name of groups (group, organization, etc.) that has Brian Smith as member.
  • Give me the name of the computer projects programmed using C++ that work for Linux or Windows.
  • Give me the name of the discussion forums that are related to cooking.
  • Give me the name of the cities in UK that have more than 150 000 people.
  • Give me the name of the documents where its topic is a person named Paul.
  • Etc.

Note: these queries are not built using natural language (such as phrases), but with an easy to use user interface that help users to build the queries they want.

Once a user has built and sent these queries, the search engine will return results matching these criteria. Then if that user click on a result interesting him, he will be redirected to Zitgist’s semantic web browser. This interface display the semantic web document know by Zitgist to users.

This is what is interesting with Zitgist. Since semantic web documents are intended to be used by machines, humans can’t easily read them. This semantic web browser is a user interface that displays the information held in these semantic web documents such that humans can easily and intuitively read and understand them. So from a single result (say, a person), a user will be able to surf the semantic web like if he would be surfing the Web: from link to link. That way, users will use the same behaviors to surf the semantic web has they have when they surf the current Web.

The main goal with Zitgist is to create a semantic web search engine for users that doesn’t even know the existence of the semantic web. A user shouldn’t be aware of the concepts supporting the semantic web to use it. Their experience should be as close as the one they currently have with the current Web and the search engines they use daily.

What is the current state of Zitgist? All the things I mentioned above are working. A first private version should be released in the next months. Some demos to the semantic web community should be performed too. Slowly, in the next months, more and more things will be rolled-out to the public. However be aware that I am not hyping the project here. I will do things that way to make sure that the supporting architecture gives the best experience to all users. For this, we have to scale the architecture slowly to make sure that too much users do not make the service unusable.

In the next week, I should gives more technical information and write documentation about how web developers can make their data available to optimize their indexation into Zitgist. So best practice documents describing how web developer should create their semantic web document will eventually be put online.

Zitgist LLC. is a company founded by me and OpenLink Software Inc. I would like to specially thanks the OpenLink development team that gives me all the support I need to develop a first working version of this new search engine. I wouldn’t be able to write about Zitgist today without them.

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7 thoughts on “Zitgist: a semantic web search engine

  1. All your projects are actual and interesting very much! But the described project can help to involve attention to Semantic Web not only the academic area. I will wait the further technical details. Are the sources freely available? Whether it is possible to participate in the project?

  2. Hi Dulanov,

    It is what I am hoping: getting more attention to the semantic web. Slowly but surely, the SemWeb is getting more and more traction out there. Unfortunately this is not an open project, however it will closely work with its users and data provider (so, any people publishing RDF data) since best practices for the semantic web have to be written and everybody should participate to the task.

    Take care,


  3. Ok. In the given project I see the greatest difficulties in development of the intuitive interface. There is a number of similar projects: gnowsis, Haystack, SIMILE Longwell, Piggy Bank, DBin and others. But all of them are difficult in use. I know one very interesting project – Finnish Museums ( Them interface is excellent, but focused on a museum domain.

    I couldn’t develop the universal interface for work with RDF model. May be, it is impossible and in real project we must hide RDF models under ordinary GUIs 😉 What do you think about this?

  4. Hi Duladov,

    Yeah, this is certainly one of the big difficulty here. How to create an interface that would be intuitive to use for any Web user? The question is really not easy to answer. Hopefully RDF is a good way to describe things, and it is not that difficulte to manypulate the data. However, I big job has to be done to hide everything and create an environment where users can navigate without thinking about what is going on here, what should I do to find what I think, to understand the information I see, etc. The experience should be the same as the one they currently have while navigating the web.

    Well this is the path I got. Not trying to innovate in a new and flashy interface, but trying to innovate in the opposite way: creating traditional web pages for the Semantic Web (and trying to stick as close as possible for the behavior of the search engine… that portion is really not that easy to create since the queries are quite different).

    However I think I reached some of my goals so far, I have much work to do, but the development is going pretty well.

    Take care and thanks for your interest in Zitgist,



  5. Give it a name if you wish: the Semantic Web; but personally I don’t care. at Frederick Giasson’s Weblog
  6. Zitgist Search Query Interface: A new search engine paradigm at Frederick Giasson’s Weblog
  7. ZitGist - um motor de busca semantico

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