Semantic Web set for critical mass

The Semantic Web, the long-ballyhooed concept to make it easier to find pertinent information and link varying types of data on the Web, is finally closing in on critical mass, W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) officials contended Tuesday at a technical conference.

The idea of a Semantic Web has been bantered about for what seems like a decade now, but it has never gained much dominance on the IT stage. But all that may be changing.

[ Last year, the Semantic Web took a big step forward with the publication of the SPARQL query technology. ]

"We're very close to [critical mass]," said Ralph Swick, technology and society technical director for the W3C, in an interview at the Semantic Technology Conference in San Jose, Calif. The conference features vendors pitching wares to commercialize semantic concepts.

"We've been working on it for 10 years, and we're starting to see the commercial pickup," Swick said. Critical Semantic Web technologies are under the jurisdiction of the WC3, including RDF (Resource Description Framework) for representing information on the Web; OWL (Web Ontology Language), enabling information in documents to be processed by applications; and SPARQL for querying RDF data.

The Semantic Web can be used for applications, such as building better mashups or publishing Facebook data, said Ivan Herman, Semantic Web activity lead at W3C. He cited "mashups on steroids" as one use. Using Semantic Web technologies, information could be accessed and linked, such as data in medical databases, geographical information, and government data, rather than just documents, Herman said.

A presenter at the conference, Thomas Tague, a platform strategy official at Thomson Reuters, advised technology developers to devise tools that use the Semantic Web and semantics. Thomson Reuters uses semantic concepts in its OpenCalais service for data-filtering.

"Go build a tool. Don't start a user experience company," Tague said. Examples of such tools could be a database to deal with semantic metadata or tools for modeling that data.

"Semantic technologies have been available for a long time," Tague said. "Frankly, it's time to talk about where the money is. It's just time to have that conversation."

Monetization could come from perhaps adding semantic capabilities to social sites and improving opportunities for advertising performance. Semantic search is another possibility for the Semantic Web. Domain-specific search also presents possibilities in such areas as real estate, music, or pharmaceuticals, Tague said. Semantic gaming also presents an opportunity, with games being extraordinarily interactive, he said.

"Not everybody needs to be the next Google," Tague stressed. "You can build incredibly strong, successful businesses by developing solutions that add high value to a small audience."

The Web has progressed from Web 1.0, which was about destinations, to Web 2.0, which added social activities, to Web 3.0, Tague said. "Web 3.0 is about cleaning up the mess and harvesting the value you created in Web 2.0 and if we can make that happen, we'll have a great Web," he said.

Google, with its Rich Snippets technology, and Yahoo, with SearchMonkey, are backing Semantic Web technologies, leveraging RDF, W3C officials said. "The idea behind both of these technologies is that the document author can provide additional data to the user when Yahoo and Google present the search results," said Swick. Microsoft's Bing search engine, which organizes answers, was highlighted in the showroom at the conference.

Also appearing at the conference was Tom Gruber, CTO, of Siri, which is devising its "Siri Virtual Personal Assistant," which leverages a mobile phone and natural language capabilities to help users accomplish tasks via the Internet. The technology features location awareness and a conversational interface to help users, for example, find a local business, see area maps, or perhaps to book tickets for a baseball game.

The technology does not leverage artificial intelligence but is "task-oriented," Gruber said.

W3C officials cited attendance at the event as evidence of the newfound staying power of the Semantic Web. Conference presenters said attendance was in excess of 1,200 persons as of Tuesday; last year's event attracted at least 1,000 attendees. Attendees include technologists, researchers, venture capitalists and others.

Other semantic technologies touted at the conference included:

  • Cycorp TextPrism, offering personalized information feeds.
  • Saltlux Storm, a semantic business platform providing an infrastructure application framework and development methodologies to extract and manage semantic metadata from enterprise information.
  • SemanticV StingRay, a dynamic semantic information tool that discovers concepts in documents and associates them with phrases, documents, blogs and other sources.
  • TextWise Semantic Signatures, to mine content to uncover deeper meanings in text and create a "signature" for each document.
  • TopBraid Suite, a Semantic Web solutions platform from TopQuadrant featuring tools to discover and visualize relevant data without programming.

This story, "Semantic Web set for critical mass" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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