Teodora Petkova’s background is in Classical Studies and Creative Writing. Following a career teaching Latin at Sofia University and as a freelance content writer, today Teodora specializes in writing for the web, including writing regularly for our partners Ontotext. Teodora is currently studying for her Ph.D. in digital marketing communications and aspects of content. She likes to dig deep into words and concepts. For this Insights Interview, Teodora discusses her views on weaving text into the semantic web and her recent book The Brave New Text.
Tell us about you and your earlier experiences?
Teodora: I have always had an appreciation for text and the way people connect through texts and writing. I’m a philologist with a Classical Studies background focusing on Latin and the roots of words, and the power of language. This passion has followed me throughout my career. My first role was as a writer for an SEO company. In these early years of writing for the web, we focused on keywords. For me, in these early days, I wanted to dig deeper and think about how you connect to the person on the other side of the screen. I wanted to think beyond content, vocabulary, and keywords, and take those first steps into semantic search.
Following this, I had other roles including an in-house content writer for SEOM based in Bulgaria. I developed written content and translations and also developed the content strategy of the corporate website. During this period, I learned how to understand search within the semantic web and working within semantic technologies. It also meant I wrote regularly in English. The quality of the writing mattered.
At this stage of my career, I started to connect with wonderful people who are part of the semantic web community. I had an an opportunity to learn, ask questions, read, and find out where this will take me next. I also collaborated closely with the back then Marketing Director of Ontotext Milena Yankova. We developed content that people could understand and engage with. It needed to avoid technical jargon. The aim was to ensure the organization communicated effectively.
Now, in addition to my freelance work and writing, I am studying for my Ph.D. researching the connection between relationship marketing and the Semantic Web. I am investigating intertextuality, text on the web, and its impact on changing marketing communications. I am also trying to connect this research to the semantic technologies and the way they lead to interconnections, helping people to connect to each other and to each other’s content.
What I find particularly interesting is relationship marketing theory goes back to the 60s and 70s. These theories are still applicable today and still relate to our association with the web. There is a need for well-built semantic web applications and technologies.
Tell us more about the Semantic Web and why it matters to web writing?
Teodora: The Semantic Web is a web of data that is readable. As people, we can make sense of a book, its intentions, meaning, and understand its content. We need machines to think this way. Tim Berners-Lee originally expressed his ideas for the future of Semantic Web as “computers become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers.”
It’s more than understanding and explanation. We need to enable the connections between pieces of data. I personally believe beautiful new ideas and relationships will evolve and develop. For example, if I am writing for a company about their activity, the writing needs to connect their products and services to the audience.
Semantic Web standards and technologies are now poised to connect the knowledge within the company to the knowledge outside on the web. Connections will enable us to explore not only knowledge on the web but also knowledge within the company. This is how genuine connections arise, not because I’m sharing an advert or a promotion. Because you as a customer have searched the internet, you found me because you found the company. That company has presented their data well in a machine-readable format. The marketing is in terms of communication and appearing before the customer through a feed or a profile. The words have met and matched what the customer is interested in.
It’s about connections, links, communities, and people. We all need to enable people to connect. Not because I posted something on social media but because I am sharing your link. Our communication enables the connection. We pay attention to each other and what we are saying online.
I am interested in Berners-Lee’s new project Solid, about decentralizing the web. This is a developing platform for Linked Data applications that are decentralized and under the control of the user. The goal is to allow users to have full control of their own data. You have a WebID that enables apps and people to connect with you, rather than creating an account for each app. It reverses the power dynamic. It can be the same with data or a picture. It changes how we exchange and connect online.
How does the Semantic Web change the way we communicate and collaborate?
Teodora: It’s not one thing, it’s unfolding and different technological and cultural forces shape it.
The semantic web enables the way we easily access knowledge. We think about how we can exchange and value knowledge. Before, information value came when you had information perhaps others didn’t have. With open data and big data, value comes from elsewhere. This environment allows for creativity and authentic connections. Technology is amazing and empowers us. Yes, it has massive potential and opportunity, but it’s the people and relationships and how we communicate that remains essential.
Semantic Web is still evolving and there are many directions and options where to go next. A lot has been achieved but more needs to be done. Companies are embracing knowledge graphs with semantic web technologies, which is great, but perhaps the complete understanding is missing. Recently I attended a content strategy camp with people working in this field. Talking with them, it was clear the majority were new to the semantic web and its potential. They hadn’t heard of data decentralization, the potential of the interconnectedness of data, and interoperability. Semantic Web changes us, how we work with data, and the different ways to represent your data. The way we use Semantic Web technologies and standards will also change our experience with data for the future.
What sort of things do you write?
Teodora: The majority of my clients work in semantic technologies. I write blog posts and articles related to semantics, knowledge graphs, and Linked Data. The work is about improving awareness and explaining solutions and blogs that help people understand something that initially appears complex.
When I start writing a new project, I like to get to the core of the challenge. I will talk to people involved and discuss the best approach to the subject. Once you enter into a conversation with experts, the content can write itself. In addition to content creation, I also run courses and writing workshops here in Bulgaria where I am based.
A key theme of your writing relates to intertextuality. Can you tell us more?
Teodora: It’s principally about how we behave with text. The term first emerged in the 60s referring to the text being shaped and influenced by other text. I feel this concept is relevant to our experiences today.
Online our words are connected. Every text, every thread in a conversation, be it direct or indirect, starts and ends in and with another text or thread. Like a snowball increasing in size as it picks up more snow, text increases its size and its connections and possible continuations.
The analogy of text and humans is useful as a means for understanding our networked life and shared meanings. The text has dual roles: the main source, and a tool for passing on meaning and insights across time and space. Today our texts are logged, archived, and digitized. This is creating a body of content we can search through, compare, and that can potentially enrich new meanings and relationships; threads across the web. Threads connect us and enable our narratives to collide, bridge our experiences, and link the data.
There is a term referenced in the Matrix series of movies. “Follow the White Rabbit.” Similarly, intertextuality is content that evokes semantic networks that are already there. We simply need to follow the White Rabbit.
”“Online our words are connected. Every text, every thread in a conversation, be it direct or indirect, starts and ends in and with another text or thread.”
Tell us about your book.
Teodora: The Brave New Text is a collection of essays with perspectives on web writing. It looks at texts and the beautiful dynamics of the semantic networks they create and their intertextual nature and how we create online.
The inspiration for the title was Brave New World, but the content reflects my fascination with and the possibilities of web-based writing. There is an opportunity to connect on a bigger and deeper scale. Writing is shifting and reflects both formal and functional differences of content. Companies engage with writing as a kind of thought leadership pieces. Functionally, this writing is about sharing knowledge and information; it can feel one to one
Formally, writing tends to be clear and concise: key points and headlines. Because the intertextual animal on the web is a very distracted animal dealing with lots of things fighting for your attention, it’s not necessarily shorter or smarter and not trivial but it needs to engage the reader. They want more.
What advice would you recommend in relation to technical writing?
Teodora: Build on our genuine need to connect and converse. Talk to all the people involved, both internally and externally. Discuss widely both within your organization and outside. Try to return to the basics of text, what is the story you want to tell.
When I teach people web writing I recommend starting with the conversation; talk and listen. Don’t be afraid to talk to your neighbor about semantics or your content – it’s a way of taking you out of your bubble. It will give you a fresh perspective.
Think about any piece of text as a piece of an ecosystem. As part of a part of the dialogue. Treat this as an ongoing process of engaging in conversations rather than one piece. This will give you space and freedom to be more relaxed in your content and avoid trying to cram everything in.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for the Semantic Web?
Teodora: Educating people and not making assumptions. We need to share positive examples of where it’s working and highlight where people are doing it well. For example, the Swedish Library transition to Linked Data. This means that the contents of the National Library catalog can now be used by web services outside the library community.
I plan to write about these types of positive actions, research, and share relevant examples. I am also starting to compile a list of knowledge graphs and a list of linked data cases: pragmatic and practical examples where it worked.
”“Make sure you are part of it, participate, and be involved in the process. It’s not something you can simply outsource “
Where should an organization start with a semantic web?
Teodora: Organisations should start by asking themselves are they ready for this semantic journey? Start to consider what are the long-term benefits. Are there other ways? Look at semantic web technologies, the core features, and improvements.
Look at different solutions and different vendors. This way you can start to form your internal enterprise behavior and ensure you match your organization. This can be a lot of work and of resources and money. It’s important, you’re investing in a process.
Make sure you are part of it, participate, and be involved in the process. It’s not something you can simply outsource.