When you hear the word “semantic” you likely think of the semantic web – the supposed next iteration of the World Wide Web that features structured data and specific protocols that aim to bring about an “intelligent” web. But the concept of semantics doesn’t necessarily apply just to the web – it can apply to other things as well, like your desktop…or even your Excel spreadsheets, according to Ian Goldsmid, founder of Semantic Business Intelligence, whose new app, SDS, brings a semantic system to spreadsheets.
The problem with spreadsheets that their system is trying to address has to do with those who need to derive data from multiple spreadsheets (two or more). Although it’s easy enough to perform sorts, build macros, and create formulas within one spreadsheet, when needing to compare values in multiple spreadsheets the process becomes more difficult.
The company’s app, The Semantic Discovery System for Excel, or just SDS for short, will look for similar columns or rows between the sheets and then “semantically” connects them. They don’t appear to just be throwing that term around either – the app uses the same W3C Semantic Web technologies (RDF, OWL, SPARQL) to help you capture “meaning, intelligence, and knowledge” from the data saved in your spreadsheets.
Do We Need Semantic Desktop Apps?
Does SDS solve a business problem that is not yet being addressed through current technologies? In my experience, the short answer to this question is “no.” (But wait, there’s more…)
Typically, when a business has need of comparing and analyzing large amounts of data, the solution is to turn to a database product that can then be queried and from which custom reports can be pulled. And a business doesn’t need to spend a lot of money on a robust solution to do so – even a smaller business can create a database by using inexpensive desktop software.
However, the difference between using a database technology and “semantically connecting” some spreadsheets comes down to for whom this product is being built. In the past, databases and other business intelligence apps were built as if the creators knew that the only person using them would be an I.T. guy or gal. SDS, instead, aims to satisfy the needs of the non-technical end user.
Is this another example of tech populism at work? It certainly looks like it. Yet, in this case their market is small – a non-technical user who’s also a power user with Excel? There’s usually some overlap there. Not to mention, by the time you’ve achieved “power user” status, you’ve often also figured out how to do more complicated things in Excel…like, say, formulas that work across spreadsheets, for example – the very pain points this app is trying to address.
Still, it’s an interesting concept to think of taking the semantic web capabilities and integrating them into everyday programs to add a layer of intelligence to these programs as well. Done correctly, it could improve the capabilities of our favorite software apps without making the programs overly complex, which is what typically happens when you add more features.
What do you think? Is the Semantic Desktop (that is, semantically-enabled desktop apps) right around the corner? Or is this product and those like it too niche to find an audience? Let us know what you think in the comments.