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Reuters opens up, but what does its OpenCalais service do?

The news giant has a new Web service that is so cool I can hardly understand what it means. Yes, it's that cool.

Not everyone's "got the 'open' memo" just yet, but Reuters apparently has.

The global news and information company this week has opened up the API to its OpenCalais project, which enables content creators/aggregators to enrich their content services. What does this mean in English?

That's hard to say, because after reading through the FAQ and the project site, I'm still awash in a muddle of buzzwords and Silicon Valley speak. But what it appears to mean is that it's a Web service that allows someone (even me) to send content (this specific blog, your recipe, a weather report, whatever) to the service to have it (in under a second) attach metadata.

Huh? And? Well...

Maybe this means that it starts connecting the dots (Matt is talking about Reuters, which is a $5 billion information management company; the blog is hosted by CNET Networks, which, according to X source, Reuters once considered buying; Matt was just named the best pie maker on the planet; etc.) and sends it back in this enriched format so that I could then use the metadata to improve site navigation, better organize my content, or whatever.

In goes basic text, out comes super-text. Or semantic web text. Or Web 12.0. Or whatever.

As with Google Maps, I suspect that this will lead to people much smarter than me creating cool mash-ups and applications. Here's what Reuters has to say:

The Calais Web service enables publishers, bloggers and sites of all kinds to automatically metatag the people, places, facts and events in their content to increase its search relevance and accessibility on the Web. It also lets content consumers, such as search engines, news portals, bookmarking services and RSS readers, submit content for automatic semantic metatagging that is performed in well under a second.

The Calais Web service returns content in an open, interoperable and entirely portable format, with a unique identifier that can be easily integrated into social networks, widgets and semantic applications like Powerset, Freebase, Twine, Hakia, Wikia, Blue Organizer and more.

I'll stick with: in goes basic text, out comes super-text. My wee brain can handle that.

My big question is what Reuters will do with the service. It's open to commercial and noncommercial use with light-handed licensing terms. Would The New York Times use something like this? I doubt it, but who knows? Open source and open APIs make collaboration possible just about everywhere.