Content labels another answer to the growing search problem?

I wrote yesterday that Google and others are trying to make the search problem more manageable by carving it into smaller chunks – be it vertical search or splitting the problem horizontally.

Another approach for cutting out the dross and getting quickly to the right pages is content labelling.

Content labels are machine readable metadata attached to sites that operate as an official stamp.  Verisign operates a content labelling system where sites that pass security standards are allowed to show a Verisign trustmark which can give people enough trust in a site to enter their credit card details.

Other prominent areas for content labelling are accessability – sites that are suitably set up for the visually impaired can carry an appropriate trustmark – and trustmarks indicating suitability for children and readiness for mobile.

Trustmarks/content labels help with the search problem if browsers or search engines can be set to only return search results which carry a certain content label.

Breaking that down, for the system to work the following elements are required:

  • An agreed standard
  • A certification authority
  • An effiicient process by which sites can get certified
  • A content label registry where trustmarks can be looked up and verified
  • Browsers which can read and check the trustmarks

Ireland/UK start-up Segala run by Paul Walsh is looking to deliver the last three parts of the equation.  They have a technology that enables efficient certicication of sites, a web service for trustmark look-up and verification and a Firefox plug-in that solves the browser part of the equation.

It is early days yet, but I like this because it is a solution to part of the search problem – it would be cool if a search on my mobile phone only returned sites that were certified as mobile ready – and in theory this could be extended in almost any direction.  Cites could be certified as “business” or “blogs” for example, which would really help weed out the unwanted from search results.  It might even be possible to include socially generated metadata in some way.

I also like it because it is a potentially huge play – it could be pennies on almost every website on the planet as a charge for certification – and there are now 45 billion of those.

But it all hangs on standards being agreed, and bitter experience tells us what that means – it will certainly take forever and it may never happen.  There are lots of encouraging signs though – with dotmobi pushing their mobileOK standard, the W3C getting in on the game and and ICRA and Ofcom are promoting content labels as a method of parental control.