The Semantic Technology Conference in San Jose is probably the most important in this sector.

I attended it for the second year in a row and this year the event had more than 1,100 people attending. It is a very important moment to understand the maturity level of the so called semantic technologies and in general, to evaluate if these technologies have started their run to become mainstream. Below you will find some random thoughts from a non-technical guy on trends and issues facilitating or preventing Semantic technologies from becoming mainstream.

The language used by vendors and experts is still too technical to engage and to excite business people. However, I noticed that more presentations included practical demo sessions showing how users interact with the applications or the solutions presented. This is a first step but what should happen next is to have presentations with clear ROI analysis, which was still missing from most presentations at this year’s event. I believe that, as usual, this is a turning point for any technology to show its strategic relevance for enterprises.

This year we were finally able to see the first real working semantic web applications. It was impressive to see the expectations that platforms like Twine, Freebase or Powerset have generated in the community. I am a Twine user so I am not surprised to see this interest but it is still nice to see this phenomenon. It is still early to say if these applications will be successful and drive a lot of traffic. Initial users seem to have split opinions. I have a conflict of interest because we are suppliers of Twine and the developer of which directly competes with Powerset  so I cannot express my opinion. However, we will all follow the efforts of these companies carefully because if they can deliver on the hype they have generated it will help to make Semantic Technologies pervasive.

The defense sector seems to be ahead of the enterprise and other government sectors in the adoption or at least interest in Semantic Technologies. Many of the most important defense-related system integrators, vendors or agencies attended the event. It’s difficult to say if this interest depends on the fact that the major wave of investment attributed to the defense sector allows it to have a much broader scope in monitoring new technologies or is it as I believe, due to the issues facing the defense sector (especially in monitoring open sources) that makes semantic technologies a perfect fit. In any case, this interest is of a great help to the industry.

Analysts of the major firms (like IDC and Gartner) seem not to have really caught up with the semantic wave. While most of these firms have started to cover semantic technologies in some shape or form, they don’t yet seem to be very engaged and comfortable with the topic. It came as no surprise that there were no analysts from these firms among the attendees of the event. I think it will be important for semantic technology companies to engage these firms in the future to present clearly their case if they want to find some advocates for a breakthrough in the business world.

There was a lot of talk about standards for the semantic web (OWL, RDF, etc.) as if simply having the standard makes a semantic web. People seem to forget that you need something to create applications to process the information and create output to the standards. In order to become mainstream and be really usable in real world applications, it is mandatory to have the tools to do the heavy lifting. This fact has always driven the development of our technology here at Expert System and this is why we have developed such a solid set of tools.

We believe that only when application development and customization tools are readily available, can the semantic web become a reality.

Author: Luca Scagliarini

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