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SemTechBiz kicks off, with hints about 2012's issues to watch

By   /  June 3, 2012  /  No Comments

The eighth west coast Semantic Technology & Business Conference (SemTechBiz) got underway here in San Francisco today, with an opening session that tried to guide attendees through the coming week of sometimes massively parallel sessions.

Up on stage, Programme co-chairs Tony Shaw and Dave McComb were joined by Thematix Partners’ Elisa Kendall and SemanticWeb.com’s very own Eric Franzon. In the room, about 75% of the audience were here for the first time; a good sign that semantics continue to attract interest. Sitting next to me, a first timer from Australia who had crossed the Pacific in the belief that semantic technologies could be a solution to problems his public sector clients were facing in Australia’s Northern Territories. I should track him down on Thursday to see if his expectations were met!

Tony Shaw kicked things off, discussing the shift over the past 8 years, with an “incremental shift” in sessions from the aspirational and theoretical toward specific implementations and real solutions to tangible problems. Progress, for sure. “We all hoped that [shift] would happen in about half the time,” said Tony, “but it’s good that it’s [finally] happening now!”

Now, each panelist was asked for their quick thoughts on the trends to watch.

Dave McComb went first, focussing upon enterprise deployments. For many years, he said “it seemed that folks from enterprise were showing up… and just watching.” That’s no longer true, with presentations from Staples, Wells Fargo, the BBC, Eli Lilly, NASA, Pearson, Lockheed, and more. And they’re showing real deployments, not proofs of concept.

Elisa, described by Jim Hendler as “one of the hardest working ontologists on the planet,” went next, and also highlighted the wealth of real implementation stories on the programme. She flagged the importance of new vertical applications of ontologies, across industries such as Finance and banking. She also called out the schema.org session on Wednesday (one I also want to see).

Eric Franzon picked out some trends from the past year, selecting schema.org (of course), adoptions at Disney and the New York Times, and the expansion of something originally pigeon-holed as SEO into other sectors such as healthcare. rNews also made Eric’s list, plus applications at the BBC, Associated Press, and others. WikiData was Eric’s third highlight, and the engagement of startups with semantic technologies was his fourth – Eric will be running the startup competition later this week. Eric also stressed the improvements in user interface over the past few months; something we need to see more of, as these technologies try to reach broader adoption.

Over the next few days, we’re going to see plenty of complex technology, and plenty of real-world examples of that technology being put to work. This community continues to innovate, and its products continue to see traction in the enterprise. But ‘the Semantic Web’ (whatever that is) has never really seen the breakout growth that some have sought. Now, with big names such as Google and Facebook ploughing their own rather different furrows with Knowledge Graph and the Open Graph, the potential of links, connections and semantics is clearly being recognized elsewhere. At the same time, enthusiasm for Big Data suggests a very different approach in which useful structure can be inferred from observation of massive volumes of unstructured or semi-structured source content; an idea that must surely be anathema to some of those walking the halls here in San Francisco.

But that’s what I’ll be looking for during my time here; the ways in which this community — with all its skills, its products, and its ways of modelling the world — is adapting to the change going on around it. Do we sulk, because these newcomers don’t do it ‘properly,’ do we quietly take them aside and attempt to show them the error of their ways, or do we admit that we have as much to learn as they do, and set about working out how to exploit the opportunities that Facebook, Google, and so many others are handing us on on a plate? If you have a story to tell about that, track me down.

Tomorrow’s programme is given over to workshops and tutorials, and then we’re all back together for the typically popular round of Lightning Sessions on Monday evening. Stay tuned for more coverage from the semanticweb.com team.

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