Are your words smart enough?

by Erin McKean on February 23, 2010

it's love

Today, at the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference, we’ll be announcing an initiative to create a new standard for getting and publishing information about words.

We’re calling it “smartwords”, and it will be an open standard — meaning anyone can publish data sets or develop applications using it. Smartwords will be context-aware and real-time … but also lightweight, easy-to-use, and versatile. We’re developing this standard with help from our first smartwords partners, including The New York Times, Forbes, The Huffington Post, O’Reilly, Vook, Scribd, ibis reader, and the Internet Archive.

With smartwords, you’ll be able to access not just traditional “dictionary-style” information, but also metadata, such as how frequently a word is used, where words are used, and who uses particular words. You’ll also be able to publish information about words — if you create a word, you can put a flag in the ground and claim it for your own — and smartwords will enable cool social features, like sharing and tagging.

What would a world with smarter words look like?

— You’re reading a new popular-science bestseller and your reader shows you quick definitions of the most difficult words, set right in the text … based on knowing what books you’ve already read and what words you’ve already seen!

— You’re a consumer and you have a few sources you trust for information (like, say, the New York Times). When you’re reading something from a different source, you can set your ereader to highlight what you’re reading to link you to good definitions (or similar content) in your trusted sources. (Instant fact-check!)

— You’re reading a great new novel and you see a great quote you’d like to pass along — you highlight it and share it on Facebook or Twitter.

The question is: if every word became a smart word, what would you ask it and what would it tell you?

We’ll be releasing version 1 of the smartwords standard in Summer 2010. With this new standard, we should able to do fantastic things with smartwords — and we want to hear from you about the kinds of information you would like to access and the kinds of applications you would like to build. Visit us at to learn more!

(There’s more information in this nice writeup about smartwords from the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog.)

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