The Semantic Web: Perhaps Not So "On the Cusp" - InformationWeek

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10/8/2008
06:04 PM
Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes
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The Semantic Web: Perhaps Not So "On the Cusp"

The Semantic Web was conceptualized almost a decade ago, but despite progress on protocols and publishing tools, it remains far from realization. Yes, semantics are important in boosting information findability and usefulness, but these SW examples — I cited another in a year-ago blog article — only emphasize the gap between SW boosterism and Web reality.

The Semantic Web was conceptualized almost a decade ago, but despite progress on protocols and publishing tools, it remains far from realization. SW-technologist David Provost doesn't share my pessimism. To the contrary, the premise of his new report, On The Cusp: A Global Review of the Semantic Web Industry, is revealed by the report's title, namely that we're almost there. Yet the report itself, like so much material in the SW world, is itself devoid of semantic mark-up. Yes, semantics are important in boosting information findability and usefulness, but these SW examples — I cited another in a year-ago blog article — only emphasize the gap between SW boosterism and Web reality.Provost's report is informative, a review of the Semantic Web industry and leading vendors. Provost profiles 17 companies out of 25 invited to respond to a survey he crafted. Company sizes range from a handful of employees to tens of thousands, all product vendors, all judged credible as going concerns by Provost. Myself, I see some of the profiled products as more for semantic data integration than for powering a semantic Web.

Provost's central thesis: "The Semantic Web is proving itself as a commercially competitive technology." But again, the report's presentation, in PDF without a hint of RDF semantic mark-up, belies that very thesis. I asked Provost, "did you consider releasing a version of the report with semantic tagging, whether of the whole text or just of key elements?" His reply: "I thought about it, but since I haven't done it before I had to place a higher priority on finishing the report first, with tagging coming later. Considering the topic, I'd certainly like to do it, but right now that's a project for another day."

Fact is, those semantic technologies do enhance data integration and information findability. That's why they're worth writing about. But the non-tagged release of Provost's report (and similar materials) directly reinforces my October 2007 conclusion, that "semantic technologies, so far, are about entities and relationships and facts. There seems to be little support for narrative, that is, for delivering information in a flowing form capable of telling a story." That is, SW technologies can create a knowledge web if correctly, consistently, and widely used, but they fall short in an essential aspect of helping people communicate.

SW technologies fall short, and further, they are not consistently or widely used. That's why text analytics is important. Text analytics provides a means of automating the discovery of meaning in "unstructured" sources, sources such as Provost's report.

I wouldn't have written this article if I didn't think David Provost's On the Cusp report was worth reading for those who are interested in Semantic Web technologies. Just don't think that the existence of 17 companies who characterize themselves as Semantic Web vendors means that the Semantic Web is anywhere close to here.The Semantic Web was conceptualized almost a decade ago, but despite progress on protocols and publishing tools, it remains far from realization. Yes, semantics are important in boosting information findability and usefulness, but these SW examples — I cited another in a year-ago blog article — only emphasize the gap between SW boosterism and Web reality.

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