Eric A. Franzon: “Semantic Technologies are becoming mainstream.”
Started in 2005 the Semantic Technology Conference has become one of the international community hot spots for the commercial application of and trend scouting in semantic technologies. Tassilo Pellegrini talked to the organizer Eric A. Franzon, VP of Wilshire Conferences and Semantic Universe, about what to expect from the upcoming event and how semantic technologies are becoming mainstream.
From June 21 – 25, 2010 the annual Semantic Technology conference will take place for the 6th time. Looking back: what has changed over time? What are the hot topics at this year’s conference?
We launched SemTech in 2005 in San Francisco. It was a good turnout for a new event, with around 300 attendees. By 2009, that number had grown to 1100, so audience size has been a significant change, certainly. However, our interest all along was to grow an industry as well as an event, and I have absolutely seen that growth and maturation. Ours was the first conference devoted to the commercialization of Semantic Technologies, and at that first conference, there was a predominant academic presence. That’s not a bad thing – this, like so many technical industries, came out of academia. Nonetheless, it’s nice to see that by 2010, there is significant adoption by businesses and organizations. I actually feel comfortable saying that Semantic Technologies are becoming mainstream; certainly not ubiquitous, but widely adopted.
The hot topics at the 2010 conference include exciting news in areas we have covered extensively before such as Linked Data, Semantic Search, Healthcare, and Publishing. But we also are delving much more deeply into new domains that have received a lot of attention recently such as Open Government, Marketing & Advertising, and Social Networks. There are new standards benchmarks to discuss such as SPARQL 1.1 and the business rules work that is being done with RIF. Additionally, we are seeing a lot of traction in Semantics in the Enterprise, so SemTech will have quite a bit to offer in that area as well.
While semantic technologies have been around for quite some years now the advent of the Semantic Web added a new spin to the community. What do you expect for the future when it comes to the convergence of semantic technologies and the Semantic Web?
I see Semantic Technologies as a superset of the space that is the Semantic Web. The Semantic Web is public; the area I call Semantic Technologies includes non-public, closed systems – behind firewalls. We’ve actually seen this before. At the same time that the World Wide Web really hit its stride in the mid-1990’s, we saw widespread adoption of portals and corporate intranets. Even though they did not sit on the public Web, these systems used the technologies of the Web to link documents, enabling organizations to share those documents globally, quickly, and inexpensively.
As the tools become better and we see more use cases in the Semantic Web, I see parallel development of semantically enabled enterprise systems. In the same way enterprises were using early Web technologies to share documents behind firewalls, they are now using semantic systems to share data globally, quickly, and inexpensively. At first – and we are seeing this already – in-house systems will consume data from the public Web, essentially mixing public and private data. This is relatively easy to do when both systems are built on a similar set of technologies, and there are an increasing number of rich data sets for companies to use. Think of a corporate system that consumes real-time stock data, for example. The system is not generating that information itself, but it might be using it in a corporate application.
One of the prominent topics at the moment is Linked Data which in connection with Semantic Web might evoke a paradigm shift in data integration issues. How do you experience this trend? How should companies react?
If you think about the ‘traditional’ challenges that enterprises have faced in managing data and meta data — issues like integration, disparate data, unstructured data, governance, legacy systems, and data quality (to name a few) — Semantic Technologies offer solutions. They’re not always the best solution for every problem, and I don’t expect that RDBMS systems will go away, but there are companies using Semantic Technology today to make money and save money.
From your perspective: what are the most exciting things to look out for in the near future?
There is a great opportunity for tool developers to enter the marketplace. The community is hungry for new tools and for semantic development to be integrated into the tools and development environments they are already using. Another area that I believe the industry is hungry for is good UI development. Data is powerful, but its usefulness is often only seen in solid visualizations and reporting. I expect that more of these tools will emerge in the very near future.
Tools for publishers like OpenCalais, Zemanta, and the rich semantics available in Drupal 7 are making it possible for less-technical people to include semantics in their web pages.
Another area to watch is consumer applications. Tripit, Siri, and Adaptive Blue’s Glue have shown that there is a market for data-driven applications for consumers.
About Eric A. Franzon
Over the last decade, Eric Franzon has served as VP of Wilshire Conferences, where he has been exploring the world of enterprise data. As VP of Semantic Universe, he has worked to raise awareness and explain the usage of Semantic Technologies and Web 3.0 in business and consumer settings. A lifelong learner and teacher, Eric is frequently called on as a consultant, coach, and trainer around complex technical topics. He is an advisory committee representative with the World Wide Web Consortium and an Affiliate Analyst with Guidewire Group. Eric has also taught improvisational comedy, early childhood education, blues harmonica, and gender studies. A Chicago native, he now lives in Los Angeles.