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Ontologies for matching

I have previously wondered out loud what ontologies are good for. I now believe that one of the most powerful use cases for semantic technology lies in social networking applications; and matching in general.

By social networking I mean "putting people in touch with each other"; especially in situations that are inherently asymmetric. For example, putting potential volunteers in touch with people who could use their services; putting buyers in touch with sellers, and so on.

The reason is simple: the language spoken by the two sides is inherently different: a seller or volunteer knows a lot (or maybe not) about what he or she can do or would like to do. But a consumer often does not know to translate his or her problem into a solution that the provider can offer.

Put more graphically, providers speak features, and consumers speak problems. This is even if they can find each other.

In the middle, there is an opportunity for someone to put the two together. A match maker has to be able to put the right provider in touch with the right consumer; in a sense that is the measure of the quality of the match maker.

The more that a match maker knows about the domain, the range of things being offered and consumed, the easier it is for the match maker to do a good job.

Enter the Ontology: in a modern social networking application, the domain knowledge of the match maker can be encoded and used as the underlying basis for performing matches.

This is, in my view, a killer application for semantic web technology.

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