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One Fine (Semantic) Day

December 23, 2020: in spite of the catastrophic forecasts of some years ago, the temperature of the earth has only increased half a degree, but in the city, the youngest children have never seen snow. The Smith family is awaiting the delivery of their children’s gifts, ordered as always on Amazon.

In some hours, the family must leave to spend Christmas with the grandparents, but the gifts have still not arrived. Only ten years ago this would have been a complicated situation—made worse by the risk of having to explain the missed arrival of Santa Claus. Today, such a problem is easily resolved thanks to the revolutionary mass adoption of the Semantic Web, which happened some time ago.

Instead of waiting at home for the packages to arrive, Mrs. Smith can modify her current online profile in her personal data locker, a complete archive that guards all personal data, managed directly by the individual. By fostering a collaborative environment, the Semantic Web has dismantled the countless customer archives and systems for the management of shipments, unique for each courier: in 2020, new shipment information catches up with the couriers in real time, and the gifts could instead be delivered to the grandparents’ address. The change of shipping address doesn’t require a telephone call to the customer, nor further modification of shipping procedures.

This small example is just one of the revolutionary scenarios used by this year’s keynote speaker at SemTech, David Siegel, author of “Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business,” to explain in practical terms the scale of the changes we can expect from the Semantic Web. According to Siegel’s brave vision, in the new world of the Semantic Web, it will be individuals and consumers who will become the primary point of reference for the market, and therefore it will substantially change each linked aspect of the information.

It will not be necessary to duplicate the data in every database of the organizations and companies in every sector in which we are operating or doing business (for example, think about the personal data necessary for login forms), solely to satisfy the needs of an antiquated, disconnected system. According to Siegel, in the era of the Semantic Web, it will fall to individuals to exactly define the rules of the game, creating a mechanism—a “pull” —so that suppliers of products and services will have the responsibility to retrieve information about its customers (instead of vice versa.) A mechanism that, according to some estimates, will help save thousands of billions of dollars every year.

In the subsequent debate following his presentation, David Siegel was not without critics. There are those who accused him of not estimating the technical aspects of such a model (for example, where will this mysterious personal data locker reside, how will we ensure it is securely managed?, etc.)
Personally, I found Siegel’s book and presentation very interesting. If we really want the new era of the Web to arise, it is necessary to initially explain the concrete advantages for consumers. Surely not everything will be developed as Siegel predicts, but his theory has merit, because it makes the motives and utilization of the Semantic Web more clear.

In the second keynote of the day, David Recordon from Facebook introduced the “Open Graph protocol” initiative. Released by the company some weeks ago, this initiative has opened an important view of what our online future could be. Through this new protocol, created by Facebook but available to all of its users, every web page will have the possibility to integrate itself in the social graph of Facebook through a simple copy and paste of code. This opens the door, for example, to the development of applications that automatically take into account each user’s social network.

For example, think about the personalization of search rankings for a classic site dedicated to restaurants or movies, according to the preferences of our friends who have already had eaten in the restaurant or who have already seen the movie. Although the first applications of this protocol already exist, the real revolution will happen in the coming years, and we can bet that new applications will know how to fully take advantage of this innovation.

Now that SemTech has drawn to a close, to give a combined vision of the current state of the industry, as well as other perspectives on the sector, I want to briefly point to the forecasts and data that emerged from the panel dedicated to investments and acquisitions in the field. In the last 12 months, we have seen a significant acceleration of activity. We have seen acquisitions of semantic technology companies from larger organizations or from new companies, plus a significant and increasing number of investments in start ups, especially in the areas of sentiment analysis, semantic publishing and semantic advertising. Therefore, it is clear that the field enjoys optimal health and we will continue to have interesting developments in the near future (stay tuned).

All in all, it has been another positive event. A larger participation of big companies like Procter & Gamble, Chevron, Lockheed Martin, CNN, etc, have given greater validity to the conference, confirming the business value of the semantic technology. The attention of some big names, from Facebook to Google, Apple to The New York Times, strengthens the vision of a Web and its consumer applications that will be diverse and innovative, even if not completely defined. If the recent increase in media interest is any indication (demonstrated by a significant increase in the number of articles dedicated to semantic technology in recent months), we can believe that the best is yet to come, and I really hope that I will be talking about it in the 2011 edition.


Author: Luca Scagliarini

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