Semantic technology conference

This blog’s title alludes to the well documented problem of people not being able to find things, mainly within an enterprise environment. Semantic technology has the potential to change that. And having just spent a day and a half at the Semantic Technology conference in San Jose (it goes on for another three days), I can verify that there’s plenty of people who think that it’s on the verge of doing so.

The promise of semantic technology, as Jeff Pollock of Oracle put it at the end of his presentation, is that  “finding stuff just got easier.”

I spoke to a lot of people and will be talking to numerous vendors, customers and investors in the coming months, but here’s my initial take:

  • Semantic technology will succeed if it’s led out by the consumer market, followed by the enterprise. This is despite the widespread skepticism about the Semantic Web, you know, the bit about it being an untenable, top-down approach to apply meaning to web pages, which I think is itself misunderstood. There’s a couple of major attempts at bring sem tech to the consumer right now: Powerset, a web search engine that launch this month, initiall searching Wikipedia articles and Twine, a social network based on shared interests built by Radar Networks, which will launch fully in the fall, but is in private beta now. Should either of those succeed in terms of usage and Web-scalability, VC funding would follow if proven in a web-scale consumer environment.
  • Semantic technology isn’t a market, it’s an enabling technology.Pollock asserted that and I’d agree with him, it’s much like text analysis in that regard (see below).
  • Standards are baked – RDF/OWL/XML. There may be some fiddling around the edges, but judging by the number of standards bodies endorsing or adopting those two (OASIS, ISO, W3C and OMG), the job seems to be largely done for now.
  • Sem tech vendors and users need to understand that text analysis using NLP or statistical methods isn’t the enemy here, and if you can fix search rather than scoff at it, you might have a winner. I saw too much berating of Google as ‘not getting it’ and text analysis as being ‘shallow’ for my liking.
  • Finally, 1,000 people is a lot of people to attract to a conference about semantic technology. It was 600 last year and although I wasn’t there last year, those that were told me it was the first year that people started to move beyond the theoretical (semantic technology has the potential to do this!) to the actual. And given that there were a very large number of European there, a similar conference on that continent would seem to make sense to me – attendees I spoke with didn’t know of such a thing, but if you do, please let me know in the comments.