When the 5th European Semantic Web Conference gets underway June 1 in Tenerife, Spain, attendees will have more to look forward to than the beauty of the sunshine-infused island in the Canary Archipelago. They’ll also have in their sights evidence that the semantic web industry is reaching maturity.
“Looking at the number of papers [submitted], there are quite a few talking about real applications that people are building,” says Sean Bechhofer, a researcher at the School of Computer Science, University of Manchester, who is one of the program chairs of the conference. “It gives an indication of the fact hat this field has kind of reached a level of maturity, where the technologies are mature in that you can begin to build things on top of them.”
The community is less worried about whether the underlying technologies will break, he says.
Some of the speakers at the conference will be addressing issues around the challenges that are still posed in deploying semantic technologies for end user applications, including Nigel Shadbolt of the University of Southampton and also CTO of semantic start-up Garlik. Bechhofer hopes to hear participants’ thoughts on the user interface issue, for one.
“How do we interact with all this data that’s out there. I would personally hope that it should be the kind of thing that in some ways you wouldn’t notice — that it would just be ubiquitous and part of the framework of your interaction, that you don’t know that you are being pushed semantic data. Your life is easier and you may not know why.”
One area that is getting a lot of traction is applications that deal with cultural heritage, such as those relating to museum collections. It makes sense, says Bechhofer, as that world has always had a tradition of rich metadata for classifying, annotating, and documenting objects. “They’re in sympathy with the whole notion of semantics metadata, that rich annotations are a good thing in helping to maintain and organize a collection,” he says.
The fifth incarnation of this conference saw 275 submissions, of which 51 papers were accepted in the end on the research track. Among the topics they explore are ontology creation, and content creation, annotation and extraction.
“One would expect that. We’re at the point where you need to populate this stuff. We need content to be able to demonstrate the benefit of the semantic web approach,” says Bechhofer. A number of papers are covering semantic web services, relating to additional annotations on web services to aid in discovery, coordination, and composition. The SPARQL query language is getting its fair share of attention too, with research into extending and implementing it.
The conference this year will also feature panel discussions as a new element, addressing topics including social network data portability. “We have many social network sites around where users have multiple profiles and there’s no easy mechanism to move them around from site to site. Is semantics something that could help us in that problem,” Bechhofer says.
Another panel also will explore how semantics fits into the new field of web science, which aims to understand the various factors that drive the growth of — scientific, technical, and social.