Internet Explorer to feature XML-based content labeling feature

Washington (DC) - The Internet Content Rating Association, which produces a content labeling framework to enable Web filters and voluntary content blockers, has announced that Microsoft has signed a licensing agreement with it, and is also making a financial investment in the Association, for an undisclosed amount.

The current version of ICRAplus, produced by the Association, is an implementation of the W3C's Resource Description Framework (RDF), which is an XML framework for describing in general terms the content of documents. This content enables screening systems, such as filters in users' Web browsers, to block the display of documents whose content labels match listings in their exclusion policies. Such a system would give the producers of questionable content a way to tag themselves with "XXX" or another codeword, in order to trigger exclusions in the Web browsers of schools, libraries, and conscientious parents.

Such a system would give adult content providers an alternate mechanism for making themselves "filter-friendly," especially with recent proposals for an ".XXX" top-level domain mired in political and social controversy.

But another clear use of RDF, mentioned in the ICRA's own press release this morning, is to give search engines a clearer idea of the nature of document content as well. Presently, systems such as Google and MSN Search use semantic networks to make judgment calls about the subject matter of indexed documents, based on their ability to locate clusters of words that are generally associated with one another with regard to a subject. An RDF framework enables a search engine to bypass its own assessment mechanism, and accept the word of the content originator (author). Assuming all content originators are equally honest, RDF-enabled search engines could index and archive content databases much more effectively.

Microsoft's joint press release this morning with the ICRA implies that users of FrontPage, Microsoft's entry-level Web site design system, will be able to include ICRAplus labels in their site deployments. Earlier implementations of the ICRA system consisted of very simple flags indicating whether a Web page or Web site featured content that may perhaps be considered profane or obscene by any viewer. ICRAplus' embrace of RDF signals the Association's intention to go much further than "bad/good" flags.

The ICRA is a consortium made up mostly of telecommunications providers, including Verizon, Cable & Wireless, and Bell Canada, but also including AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Google is not listed as a member. Although Google presently does not support the existing ICRA flag system internally, it does support RDF. In an ongoing experiment with the W3C, so-called RDF bookmarks are used to refine the accuracy of results for queries on selected topics.

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