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Dave McComb : What will it take to build the Semantic Technology industry?
02.05.2007

mccombDave McComb, CEO of asemantics and co-chair of this year’s Semantic Technology Conference in San Jose / USA, does not believe in killer applications when it comes to capitalize semantic technologies. Read his comment on what it takes to build a Semantic Technology industry.

What will it take to build the Semantic Technology industry?

I get asked this question a lot. And I’d like to get your help in answering it please.

As co-chair of the Semantic Technology Conference program, I see lots of customer organizations experimenting and adopting semantic technologies – especially ontology-driven development projects and semantic search tools – and seemingly as many start-ups and new products emerging to address their requirements. It’s an exciting time to be in this space and I’m glad to have a part to play.

But back to the question of “what will it take?” I don’t think anyone has all the answers, though it seems there’s a growing consensus about how semantics will eventually take hold:

stc2007

1. A Little Semantics Goes a Long Way

I think it was Jim Hendler who first used the expression, and I find myself in stark agreement. Much of the criticism of the semantic web vision focuses on the folly of trying to boil the ocean, yet many of the successful early adopters are getting nice results by taking small incremental steps. There’s a nice little exchange at Dave Beckett’s blog on this point.

2. Realistic Expectations

I guess this relates to my first point, but I remain concerned about the hype and expectations that are being set around the semantic web, and now the term Web 3.0. As much as anyone, I’d love to see semantics grow exponentially. But this market is going to be driven by customers, not vendors, and the corporate clients I see have hyped too many times so they’re taking a more cautious approach. I’m confident they’ll catch on eventually, but let’s not try to push them too far, too fast.

3. We Don’t Need a Killer App

Personally I think we need to look at semantic capabilities as an increasing component of the web and computing infrastructure, as opposed than trying to identify a killer app that’s going to kickstart a buying frenzy. If a killer app emerges then that’s great, but don’t hold your breath. There’s plenty of value to be gained in the meantime. More than anything, we need to demonstrate speedy, cheap ways to get started with semantics. This will be far more useful in the long run.

4. We Need to Get Business Mindshare

It’s so obvious that I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but the main point is that we need to improve how we’re currently demonstrating the business value of semantic technology. I see a few key ways we can improve, starting with a greater willingness to talk about the projects already taking place. Secondly, I think we can leverage existing technology trends – especially SOA and mashups – to show how semantic technology can add value to these efforts. Third, and I risk offending a few people with this, but in the short term we should be emphasizing cost savings and reduced time to deployment over and above the extra intelligence and functionality that semantics can provide. Especially for corporate customers. Semantic SOA can save hugely over conventional approaches in data integration and interface projects, and this is where most businesses are really feeling the pain right now.

OK, so this is a short and incomplete list of ideas, and I’ll admit that part of my motivation is just to get the conversation started. But I hope you’ll join in. There are two places where you can start:

  1. My Blog
  2. The Semantic Technology Conference

This year’s SemTech conference in particular will have numerous discussions around the theme of how to grow the semantic technology industry, including Mills Davis’ Semantic Wave 2007 tutorial, and the Keynote panel on Building the Semantic Technology Industry: A Conversation with Entrepreneurs and Investors.

I hope to see you in one place or the other, and to get your input to the conversation.

Cheers,Dave McComb
CEO, Semantic Arts, Inc.
www.semanticarts.com
&
Co-Chair, Semantic Technology Conference
www.semantic-conference.com

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Is Web Technology Making Your Life Better?

Written by Josh Catone / February 28, 2008 10:15 AM / 5 Comments
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Technology, broadly, is a tool or set of tools aimed at making some aspect of life better, easier, or more efficient. On the web, that could mean scripting languages that make it easier for developers to create applications, or it could mean applications that make it easier for us to accomplish a task. Let’s not debate the definition of the word technology, but rather, is web technology working for you? Are so-called web 2.0 applications making your life easier or overloading you with too much information?
“It is no secret that we live in an information overload age,” is how Alex Iskold began his must-read Attention Economy overview that was published on ReadWriteWeb about one year ago. We’re constantly bombarded with information these days — news, blogs, photos, videos, Twitter, emails, text messages, phone calls, etc. All of these things are vying for and tugging at our attention.

So the question becomes: is the technology that is supposed to make our lives easier, actually overwhelming us and making our lives more difficult? And if so, how do we escape the negative effect of technology overload?

The latest in the compelling series of Oxford 2.0 debates over at the Economist web site (which we covered in December) deals with the proposition: If the promise of technology is to simplify our lives, it is failing.

Arguing on the pro side (that technology is complicating our lives) is Richard Szafranski, Partner, Toffler Associates. On the con side (that technology is simplifying our lives) is John Maeda, President Elect of the Rhode Island School of Design. The debate runs until March 6 and spectators are right now split 64%-34% in favor of the con side.

The Economist debate is speaking broadly to technology as a whole (which might include everything from the hammer and nail to the Large Hadron Collider), but the relevance to our problem of information overload is undeniable.

From Szafranski’s opening statement:

“We–hundreds of millions of us and growing–embrace the very technologies that make our lives and our relationships more difficult and fill many of our waking moments with activity. We love–to the point of gluttony–to communicate, play, invent, learn, imagine and acquire. Information technology has given us tools to do all of those anywhere and round the clock. We are awash in the benefits that high-bandwidth fixed and mobile wireless communications, email, text messages, pictures, games, data and information give us, including instant access to thousands of products. The seductive ease with which we can engage in any and all of those activities, or quests or endeavours makes it difficult and stressful to not be overwhelmed by choices. Choosing takes time and our time is not unlimited. Devices and applications that save us labour in one area may merely allow us, and sometimes seem to compel us, to invest labour in other areas.

We say or hear, “I must do my email tonight, or by tomorrow I’ll have over 600 to read.” We want to buy a pot. Search on “pottery” and get 254,000,000 results. We want to find the John Li we met at a conference. Search on “John Li” and get 8,600,000 results. Do I do email, narrow the searches, eat dinner, pick up my laundry or call a friend? Because technology has spawned numerous complex variations I must repeatedly go through the act of evaluating and choosing — a labour of deciding. Technology has imposed the encumbrance of over-choice on us.”

And from Maeda’s first parry:

“Recognize simplicity as being about two goals realized simultaneously: the saving of time to realize efficiencies, and later wasting the time that you have gained on some humanly pursuit. Thus true simplicity in life is one part technology, and the other part away from technology.

We voluntarily let technology enter our lives in the infantile state that it currently exists, and the challenge is to wait for it to mature to something we can all be proud of. Patience is a virtue I am told, and I await the many improvements that lie ahead. To say that technology is failing to simplify our lives misses the point that in the past decade we have lived in an era of breakneck innovation. This pace is fortunately slowing and industries are retrenching so that design-led approaches can take command to give root to more meaningful technology experiences.”

Szafranski is arguing that the benefit of technology has been overwhelmed by the sheer complexity and enormity of it. Technology may have solved some problems, but it has created others that are just as negative, or perhaps worse. Or, for example, Google gives us access to so much information that finding what we’re looking for is such a complex task that our lives are worse off for it. On the other hand, Maeda’s argument is that information technology is so new that we’re only now beginning to refine it in ways that make it more simple. It can be a tad overwhelming when a Google search return 4 million results, but give it a few years and it is bound to get better.

This is an intensely interesting debate, and we thought it would be fun to try to continue it here with a focus on web technologies. Is the information overload that we’re all acutely experiencing worth the utility we’re getting out of it? Has technology on the web failed us or has it made our lives easier? What do you think? The floor is open for debate, let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Image via a Geico ad.

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