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Yahoo! puts webpages in their place

Lingua geographica

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Yahoo! is offering developers a free online service that gives webpages a certain sense of place.

Today, the company unveiled a beta service it calls Placemaker. You give it blog posts, news articles, and other collections of web words, and it gives you metadata identifying specific geographical locations mentioned in these documents.

"We look for unstructured references to place, say the string 'New York City' or 'NYC' or 'The Big Apple,'" explains Tyler Bell, head of geo-technologies at Yahoo! "Then we do what we call a geo-disambiguation to resolve those to a specific place."

Yahoo! returns a unique identifier for that place, its longitude and latitude, how many times it was found, and exactly where it was found. But the onus is on you - the developer - to actually tag your pages with this metadata and build applications that take advantage of it. Using Yahoo!'s open API, you might shuttle a New York City story, for instance, straight to New York City residents.

What Placemaker doesn't do is semantic analysis, so its tags can tell you only so much. "We can't tell you that although a story was written in Jakarta, it's actually about Darfur," Bell continues. "We simply identify places and it's up the developer to apply rules on top of that."

Placemaker is underpinned by Yahoo! GeoPlanet, a kind of lingua franca for geographical metadata. Or as Bell calls it, a linga geographica. Today, Yahoo! also released GeoPlanet Data, a complete dictionary for this metalanguage. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution license, GeoPlanet Data includes unique identifiers for millions of place names in multiple languages and tags describing the relationships between places.

Yahoo!'s ongoing geo-technology obsession has also produced Fire Eagle, a GeoPlanet-speaking service that stores your personal location information so that websites and applications can readily make use of it. With your approval. Naturally. "We want to provide open tools and open frameworks to allow developers to create a geo-location-aware web," Bell says.

Beginning Thursday, you can access Placemaker here. Geoplanet Data is available here. ®

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