Researchers Focus on Semantic Web Incentives

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Jennifer Zaino Contributor

What needs to happen to bring about the Semantic Web on a broad scale? The organizers of an upcoming workshop, Incentives for the Semantic Web, to be conducted at the 7th International Semantic Web Conference in October in Karlsruhe, Germany, will be exploring that question. recently conducted an interview by email with the conference organizers: Katharina Siorpaes and Elena Simperl, researchers at the Semantic Technology Institute (STI), and Denny Vrandecic of the Institut AIFB, Karlsruhe, Germany.

Q: What prompted you to organize a workshop on this topic?
Are you concerned that the semantic web is developing too slowly, and if so,
what do you believe has held it back and kept people from contributing to
semantic content creation?

A: We have been working on this topic for several years. In OntoGame [which weaves the Semantic Web into online, multi-player game scenarios], for instance, we investigate how tasks related to the creation of semantic content, which rely heavily on human input, can be hidden behind cooperative online games. Another example is Semantic MediaWiki, a wiki-based platform that allows the creation of semantic data in a simple and minimally invasive fashion. The created data can be immediately used within the platform and brings visible benefits to the system user.

The principle underlying such approaches is that semantic technology must not only be easy to use, but also rewarding: people need a clear incentive to invest time to building ontologies or annotating content semantically. The technology has matured in the last years, but its adoption is possible only if a critical mass of content is available. And one promising way to achieve this is by making the technology accessible to and appealing for a broad audience.

Q: The information about the workshop makes a contrast between the
success of web 2.0 and the relative lack of success about the semantic web.
Can you describe what you think made so many Web 2.0 apps a success and how
that reflects on what is lacking around the semantic web?

A: The majority of the applications we call 2.0 are easy to use and offer an incentive for the users, be that the need for affiliation to a community, entertainment, competitive spirit, peer recognition, or reciprocity. From a technological perspective, Web 2.0 did not bring many new things, while the Semantic Web is based on a complex, innovative technological stack. What we can learn from Web 2.0 is how to motivate people to contribute to semantic technology and how to make its benefits visible to its adopters. This is, however, not limited to “Web 2.0 incentives.”

Q: At this point, where would you have expected — or hoped — the world to be in terms of the development of semantic applications of immediate added value, and for the adoption of semantic technologies at the industrial level? How far do you believe we actually are from that hope/expectation?

A: 2001 was the year of a major publication about [the semantic web], which lead to an increased interest in developing semantic technology. OWL [Web Ontology Language] was released in 2004, SPARQL only this year. Without basic standards like a query language, the Semantic Web naturally could not develop that fast.

All indicators point towards further and accelerated growth of the Semantic Web. Many current databases are adding exposure of their data in Semantic Web standard formats, be it the BBC, DBLP, or Twine.

In industry, we know of a number of use cases where semantic technologies have been successfully applied. We would have hoped to see more adoption in the industry, but it seems that the perceived benefits are not convincing enough.

It seems that industrial KM (knowledge management) systems used to be better than what was available on the Web, but this has changed in the last few years. Therefore it may be promising to show how the use of Semantic Web standards improve Web systems, and then to bring that back into the enterprise.

Q: What can move things closer to the Semantic Web vision?

A: Wider adoption. And in order to achieve that, we need to apply and preferably understand the incentive schemes for such systems. This applies for open communities and systems, but also for the enterprise context. That’s why we have the workshop.

Q: What do you believe can continue to challenge the realization of that

If the incentives for the users are not right, they may perceive to do a lot of work with tagging, putting stuff into hierarchies, adding metadata, but may soon lose interest since they do not get enough out of it. Technical user interfaces that show URIs or that require a master’s study in first order logic may turn off potential users. Tools that hog down your machine because they are written as prototypes and require an [considerable] amount of resources are likely to have the same impact.

Q: What risks might there be for the development of the web overall if those
challenges are not met?

A: A particular semantic application in a given setting might fail because it does not implement the appropriate incentive structures. There is the potential risk, however, that some people erroneously trace back this failure to the semantic technology itself.

We frequently forget that most Web 2.0 applications actually fail, and we often only see the successes. And the numbers of semantic systems is low, and thus they are often closely observed. In case one fails, it may be attributed to the technology – which in turn would mean that the whole technology stack of the Semantic Web gets tainted. This could lead, in the worst case, to something like a Semantic Web winter, where research and development avoid these technologies. Incentives are just one important piece for the whole puzzle – user interfaces, business models, and good ideas are others.

Q: The workshop is billed as a networking event for discussing and
brainstorming ideas for motivating people to contribute to semantic content
creation. Can you say what that means in terms of the goals you would like to see realized as a result of the workshop?

A: The intention of the event is to make people start thinking about the topic and motivate a discussion. It is important to provide a platform for researchers and interested people to meet and stimulate further collaboration. The workshop is intended to be very interactive.

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