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Semantic Tech in 2011: The Year In Highlights

By   /  December 21, 2011  /  No Comments

To accompany our recent podcast looking back on 2011, we’ve accumulated some additional perspectives from thought leaders in the next-wave Web space on the year that’s quickly passing us by.

Some highlights follow. You’ll see respondents hit on some common themes throughout, such as Big Data, sentiment analytics, specific vertical industry adoption, and the standards space:


  • SKOS has become an increasingly popular entry point for organizations that want to use semantic technology in practical applications without worrying about the more complicated aspects of semantic web technology. – Bob  DuCharme, solutions architect, TopQuadrant


  • It was encouraging to see this blog early this year about microformats and RDFa deployments. And if you look at what has happened around adding semantics to online news data, with the New York Times, AP and Getty Images, or Google with its Recipe Search using RDFa, we are seeing these technologies being adopted. And I think the term Big Data has become hot this year. It’s part of the lexicon. Among VCs in particular everyone wants Big Data, and that requires semantic technology.Nova Spivack, CEO & founder, Bottlenose



  • 2011 was the year of IBM Watson, built on natural-language processing, text mining, semantic integration, knowledge structures, and analytics to beat humans at their own game, Jeopardy, and of Apple Siri, applying similar technologies, with an assist from the Wolfram Alpha information-access engine, to bring conversational question-answering to everyday tasks.  As demonstrations of the power and potential of NLP and semantics, Watson and Siri are huge. – Seth Grimes, founder, Alta Plana Corp


  • I’m confident that semantic technologies will be at the core of big precision medicine companies. That is starting now and emerging to become a really big market in the next ten years or so. There are a lot of challenges in this domain for better integration, normalization, harmonization, pattern recognition and deep querying. Semantic technologies are uniqely effective in these areas. Core technology work being done by organizations such as the W3C, including pioneering best practices for ontology design and publication of linked open datasets, are being extended and applied by companies like ours to help discover patterns from data about genes, proteins and symptoms to target treatment to individual patients. And the cost of doing this is rapidly decreasing.  For instance, in collaboration with a customer, we recently proposed a new biomarker discovery project to another group. The proposal duplicates a process that we have already completed with this customer and others. It applies RDF-based methods for integration and analysis, and SPARQL arrays for classification and screening. This will happen in just a couple of months, and for a small fraction of the cost required to achieve a similar outcome just a couple of years back. Semantic technologies, improved knowledge of what is required to discover biomarkers, information from sources such as linked open data and electronic medical records, and more powerful, lower-cost hardware and network infrastructure – all these things are coming together. – Robert Stanley, president and CEO, IO Informatics


  • Semantic technology is appearing in more places you wouldn’t expect it. Facebook, of course, is doing a lot of semantics in light forms – look at Open Graph, everyone’s using a Like button, and Facebook interests are becoming more semantic too. And they’re starting to open what they’re doing up a bit, too. They are very interested in getting more metadata around things to make their recommendation algorithms better and also for advertising. — Dominiek ter Heide, CTO, Bottlenose


  • Sentiment analysis took a big step due to the influence of Twitter. The studies that correlated twitter chatter/sentiment with equities, stocks, and box office performance has made the hedge fund and investment community realize that they need something to harness that and that means more innovation and competition in that space. – Tim Estes, CEO, Digital Reasoning


  • Most significant developments: a) The DoD mandate for adoption of semantics.… I think the DoD understands now just how strategic semantics is, not just for their own organization, but frankly the global economy. b) HTML5:… I wasn’t close enough to HTML5 to fully understand the driving forces, but I think it represents one of the most significant events for interoperability and one of the greatest failures, and it unveiled serious flaws in the standards process. We even witnessed a debate during the past year whether the Web was dead or reborn, with credible forces taking each side in the debate. c) Signs of adoption in other key clusters like financial services…XML was in my mind always sort of sophisticated duck tape to hold the Web together until structural repairs could be made to the medium. Semantics represents a very good attempt at making structural repairs, or rather in some respects rebuilding from the foundation up. … The fact that the financial services industry cluster and the DoD industry cluster are adopting semantic technologies, along with other trends we see, represents to me signs of an inflection point of generational change. Due to the nature of data structure and data sharing, these are the pivotal forces in the economy that drive adoption. It’s early in finance but still a good sign. d) Schema.org: Similar to HTML5 I see this development as both a partial (as in immature-we’ll see) success and partial failure. The risk in both industry efforts is that the standards process will be hijacked, resulting in an extension of the silo mess and lack of interoperability. e) Award of my patent…This one is very important to managing structured data. – Mark Montgomery, founder and CEO, Kyield.


  • In 2011 we saw the emergence of tools to conquer the “big data” problem, and also the emergence of low-cost SAAS models to enable text analytics and modeling. Over the past ten years there has been a looming prediction that business intelligence solutions will need to integrate the capability to manage petabytes and exabytes of data. Tools that have since emerged like Hadoop, Google Map Reduce, and DBpedia (taking structured content from info created as part of the Wiki project) are part of the new age solution.Greg Merkle, VP of Product Strategy & Design, Dow Jones



  • My main focus is semantics on the world wide web. In that context undoubtedly the biggest event was the release of schema.org and its uptake. It marks a major turning point away from complex open-ended philosophy of RDF into less flexible, but more comprehensible semantic world wide web. Second really intriguing event was CommonCrawl that is trying to fundamentally change the equation when it comes to the cost of indexing the web. Andraž Tori, Founder and Director, Zemanta


  • An interesting tidbit in terms of positive incremental change for eGov activity within the US Government is this report that data.gov is getting a bump in allocations from $8 million to $12.4 million in the latest House budget bill for Fiscal Year 2012.

    $4m is still $4m.  data.gov is run out of the GSA, not the DoD where $4M would keep one aircraft carrier running for nearly three days.  (Yes, the cost of running a Nimitz class aircraft carrier is about $530M per year or $1.4M per day, including personnel, aircraft fuel and maintenance expenses). — Bernadette Hyland, co-chair W3C Government Linked Data Working Group and CEO of 3 Round Stones


  • Social media drove a convergence of customer service with marketing. Social media was originally driven by marketing departments, but companies found that the questions generated In social media required input from the customer service organization. In 2011, market demand evolved from social listening/monitoring to social analytics, to address the need for more useful, deeper insights from social conversation data. Organizations began moving from experimenting with social media to getting real business value from their social initiatives by tying them to business processes in marketing, sales and customer service.  For that reason, the worldwide Social CRM market is estimated to reach over $1Bn in revenue by year-end 2012, up from ~$625M in 2010. – Rebecca MacDonald, VP of marketing at Attensity


  • I’ve been to all the semantic web conferences for many years and a consistent problem has always been that the technology is front and center, not the app. And with a lot of new technologies you need a period of internal wrangling to figure out how to apply them, but at some point the real charter has to happen around how you help the user. We speak from experience here. Worio had a product for 5 years before Zite, and it never was popular with users, even though it included the same technology. So that’s a very personal lesson from us, that even with great technology, if you don’t have the right product for the right market and are filling some key user need, you get no traction. Look at Siri – there is a lot of complicated technology behind Siri but people are doing joke videos with it. You know the semantic web is here when that happens. – Mark Johnson, CEO, ZITE


Please feel free to add your own thoughts of the biggest trends of 2011. Coming soon: Big Misses and 2012 hopes and expectations.


About the author

Jennifer Zaino is a New York-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology journalism. She has been an executive editor at leading technology publications, including InformationWeek, where she spearheaded an award-winning news section, and Network Computing, where she helped develop online content strategies including review exclusives and analyst reports. Her freelance credentials include being a regular contributor of original content to The Semantic Web Blog; acting as a contributing writer to RFID Journal; and serving as executive editor at the Smart Architect Smart Enterprise Exchange group. Her work also has appeared in publications and on web sites including EdTech (K-12 and Higher Ed), Ingram Micro Channel Advisor, The CMO Site, and Federal Computer Week.

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