Blog, Events, Semantic Intelligence

The last day of SemTech, and food for thought

In an original conclusion to SemTech 2011, and perhaps also to reiterate that the main objective of semantic technology is to make knowledge more accessible, the event organizers invited Laura Campbell, director of strategic initiatives at the Library of Congress, the oldest cultural institution in the United States, and one of the largest libraries in the world, to provide the closing keynote.

Campbell began her presentation by explaining that one of the most pressing problems in wanting to ensure the acquisition and preservation of the largest collection of knowledge and easy access to the best examples of American creativity (strategic objectives of the Library of Congress), is management of our changing connections to available content.

In fact, not only are our ties to content increasing, but also increasingly diverse. Audio, video and images have long since accompanied and even sometimes replaced traditional content; to be able to better manage this complexity, the Library has implemented very stringent processes for the creation of metadata and classification, using automated tools that cannot be separated from automatic text understanding. And because their mission is also to share knowledge, the Library of Congress is a major supporter of Linked Data.

The initiative, created through the movement of Tim Berners-Lee, aims to make it possible to connect unlinked data, via the Web, and to break down the barriers that make correlation of similar information so difficult. Linked Data is perhaps one of the first globally successful initiatives related to the Semantic Web. Some governments, most notably the American and British, have long made it easy to access a myriad of different data which, when enriched with meaning (through semantics), can help develop applications that make this data available for a variety of activities to benefit not only the organizations but especially the people. Italy, too, though still lagging behind other nations, is trying to gain ground in this area, and there are many initiatives that are worth following closely, including this one at Linked Open Data Italia.

Regardless of the interest in seeing a site developed on the principles of the semantic web, if you have never surfed the website of the Library of Congress, I suggest you do so. This is a unique collection of knowledge, and especially the section devoted to digital collections is impressive in terms of quality and quantity of information.

And so, with the presentation of Campbell, halfway between technology and humanities, this year’s Semantic Technology Conference was brought to a close. And like any good conference, it leaves us with much food for thought:

  1. Big Data: In every sector, public and private alike, the amount of information that an organization (and implicitly the individuals who belong to it) have to consult and process is increasing exponentially. But that’s not all—the number of sources is also increasing, and it’s even more difficult to understand which information is more important. The deluge of data now, and to come, is increasingly made ​​up of unstructured information: Reports, documents, academic papers, blogs, social media, etc. To control these flows of information and extract value requires a combination of technology and discipline to follow well-defined processes. It is now clear that those who can find an effective way to combine these two resources will win, because they will be able to take advantage of access to all relevant knowledge at the right time. Semantic technologies play an important role in the technological part of this equation. On the other hand, for many, ignoring the problem of data proliferation could be catastrophic.
  2. Start Simple: It is increasingly clear that semantics = complexity is false. Today, there are applications that are not only easy to understand, but also easy to implement and provide clear ROI. Areas such as customer care, competitive intelligence and social media monitoring come to mind. To automate the dialogue with customers while maintaining quality is a goal easily reached by mature semantic technologies. To refine real-time market news and competition, identifying what is important for various business functions, is easy if you have clear goals in mind and if you have the right technology platform. Anticipating trends, or preventing damage from the viral distribution of news or gossip on a single company or product is feasible if you have a solution that is able to extract the information you need. You can create value right away even in these simple areas, and as you better understand the technology’s potential, you can begin a process of creating even more advanced and important solutions.
  3. Be Current: Technology is changing even faster than market conditions. A recurring theme in all of the success stories I heard over the course of the conference was the importance of not putting your technology choices on auto pilot just because maybe the first few years have proven successful. Rather than delegating decisions to outside consultants, it’s important to stay close to your technology so that you can grow together and adjust both as you change, and as the market changes. Looking around is important, as in all activities, and it is even more so when it comes to innovation. Maybe it’s time to move a bit of the budget dedicated to maintaining the status quo instead to initiatives that help keep pace with the times, and more so if you are realizing that you are exploiting only a fraction of the information that is available to you.

And with this, I close my diary of this year’s Semantic Technology Conference. Thank you for the time you spent reading my posts. Now, it’s time to leave the Hilton and take the cable car out to the Bay, where I expect a long dinner Mark Twain style with crabs and cold beer. But if semantic technology is still on your mind, you can reach me at @Scagliarini or lscagliarini at

Author: Luca Scagliarini

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