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Why are we still pushing Semantic Web ?

SuccessesThis was the question a panelist asked at the W3C Advisory Committee meeting that I attending at the beginning of December 2004. In other words, the panelist and others discussing this question were wondering, why is it taking so long for the industry to get it (its importance)? Or that, by now, we would have expected it to have seen much wider adoption, a clear indication that the Semantic Web is here for good, transforming the Web into its next logical incarnation.

The essence of my comment at that time was that the rate of progress is quite robust and pervasive, and there are prominent signs that the Semantic Web is not just a fad, that this time, semantics as applied to information (which predates the Semantic Web as defined today) is indeed likely to affect many businesses in not-too-distant a future, and even common Web user in intermediate future. Here is an extended perspective on the adoption of the Semantic Web, which also incorporates a nice dinner discussion that some of the Semantic Web technology/product vendors (who are members of the W3C) had with the W3C Semantic Web team members (Eric Miller and others).


Although funding from NSF, DARPA and the premier funding agencies have now waned, DAML program gave excellent and timely start to the Semantic Web research in the US. The funding initiative moved to Europe with Framework V, and is firmly entrenched with Framework VI. The number of new conferences, conference attendance, sessions related to the Semantic Web in older and more established conferences, number of published papers and new scientific journals devoted to the Semantic Web (such as Web Semantics, Semantic Web & Information Systems, and Applied Ontology) all point to broad and increasingly entrenched interest in this new area.


One of the nicest things that have happened to our area is timely standards activity. Note the emphasis on “timely”, as it is helpful to have basic standards before the area matures and before industry interest peaks, reducing the chances of clashes between the entrenched interests. Not having activities being taken to competing standards bodies, as is the case in Web Services area, helps too.

Technology and Products

One of the most exciting things to have happened in our area is the number of technologies commercialized from academic research (Taalee’s MediaAnywhere A/V Semantic Search and Semagix’s Freedom from University of Georgia’s SCORE technology, Network Inference’s relationship with University of Manchester, Ontoprise’s relationship with Karlsruhe, to name a few). Now, at least twenty vendors claim to use or support Semantic Web technologies, and the list is growing quite rapidly. And perhaps most importantly, scientific and business communities are building targeted (i.e., with clear purpose) and large ontologies at an impressive pace.

Industry Recognition

The informative panel at the W3C 10th anniversary celebrations ( on the “Web of Meaning” illustrated how the thought leaders and industry executives buy into the vision of the Semantic Web. Panelists Tim O’Reilly (O’Reilly Media, talk) and Bill Ruh (Cisco Systems, talk) presented a fairly encouraging perspective on how Semantic (Web) technologies are needed for key applications, such as Regulatory Compliance, B2B Exchange, Workflow and BPM, and Business Intelligence. What is interesting is that some of these are “selling aspirin” rather than “selling vitamins”, something that does better in low to moderate economic growth environments.

I would add several other fields of rapid adoption, including life sciences (see the W3c workshop in Semantic Web for Life Sciences), bioinformatics, healthcare, content management, national intelligence and homeland security. Just look at the number of large ontologies that cover the broad range of schema size, descriptionbases (instances) and expressiveness of representation, developed by community or a small number of domain experts, that are now being put to practical use. Some illustrious examples are NCI Cancer Ontology with over 17,000 concepts, or GlycO ontology for complex Carbohydrates with 767 Classes that is up to 11 levels deep and utilizes all expressive power of OWL, or ontologies with over 10 million instances developed for enterprise semantic applications using Semagix Freedom. Researchers interested in finding ontoloiges to play with can consider TAP or SWETO that are based on real-world facts, or get their hands on software to generate synthetically generated ontologies.

At the industry events, such as those organized by TopQuadrant and MITRE, or the user group initiated events, such as those for the US Department of Defense or the Life Science Community, 100 to 300+ people have shown up, which indicated fairly high level of industry and user group interest.

Industry Deployment and Early Successes

Since some very early deployment examples that were discussed at the WWW2004 Developer’s day, there are now increasing number of examples of deployments both in Enterprises (e.g., see my KMWorld talk) or for more ‘common’ web users. It is this topic what garnered the main attention during our dinner discussions (mentioned above). One exciting observation that came up is the stealth inclusion of the Semantic Web technologies in applications. Eric Miller gave the example of Creative Common’s use of RDF (also see Shelly Parker’s earlier article). This is an example of simpler SW applications involving embedding license metadata and validating it so millions of content items would in essence be using at least limited Semantic Web technology for enforcing licenses! Another example is that of semantic annotation of syndicated contents and Web Services (e.g., the WSDL-S semantic proposal (early draft, currently being revised in an academic-industry partnership) and corresponding tools (e.g., MWSAF and ASSAM) for annotation of Web Services). Such applications can quickly lead to a wide spread and pervasive use of RDF in a fairly short time. What is interesting is that some of the applications are not being deployed by early adoptors; instead the SW technologies have been part of the pain killer types of main-stream IT applications and solutions (such as Anti-Money Laundering, compliance and risk management)! Enecdotal successes are starting to come. For example, a compliance related semantic application(implemented with a semantic technology platform from Semagix) is live at one of the largest banks in the world in the line of business. And I have heard of companies such as Amazon inserting ontologies in their main stream applications, so we can expect to see large scale consumer centric applications exploiting essential components of Semantic Web in the near future.

Final thoughts

One perspective that some in the community, particularly Tim Berners-Lee-TBL, seem to promote it that Semantic Web is “not interesting in the smaller scale”. As more and more things connected by a “semantic way” it becomes more and more important. This makes sense from the perspective of global scale Web and non-enterprise applications. But from an industry perspective, I believe Semantic Web is equally interesting at the intra- and inter-Enterprise scales, and for Enterprise applications. This view is the same as the adoption and importance of Web technologies in Intranets. If at all, given the ability to constrain or limit the domain, deeper domain semantics can be put to use, agreements to build ontologies can be reached faster, industry specific metadata standards can be readily used, and facts and knowledge to populate ontologies can be obtained more easily. Today’s enterprises have millions of documents, and access to massive amounts of high-quality or targeted syndicated contents and data (e.g., through Lexis-Nexis, ChoicePoint, NewsML and RSS News Feeds, and so on). The ontologies developed to support targeted enterprise scale Semantic Applications are currently exploiting ontologies with millions to tens of millions entity and relationship instances. And yes, the promise of scaling these Enterprise and industry scale islands by interconnecting them (and achieve what TBL called network effect) exists anyways.

June 12, 2010 Posted by | Internet & Business Online | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Race in American Trials Collection” research guide goes online

A brief research guide, Researching Race in the American Trials Collection, is now online. A link to the guide is in the Law Library’s Research page, under the heading “Legal Research Guides. While the guide’s focus is on trials involving slavery, segregation, and related issues, it’s also helpful for researching other topics in the American Trials Collection. Additional slavery resources are available via the Yale Slavery and Abolition Portal.

We’ve added about 100 titles to the American Trials Collection in the last year, including Trial of Thomas Sims, on an Issue of Personal Liberty (Boston, 1851), described by Paul Finkelman as the most complete record of “the first important and intensive investigation of the meaning of the 1850 [Fugitive Slave] Act” (Slavery in the Courtroom, p. 94). This pamphlet is also available online, courtesy of the American Memory website of the Library of Congress.

Rare Book Librarian

May 18, 2010 Posted by | Off Topig | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

21st Century Companies and Online Questionnaires

Years ago, a great number of large institutions realized that having numerous capable employees was not enough to improve the business. It seemed like something was missing… but what? What was wrong about the companies’ organization? They knew they could do better, but they were confused about what to change and where to make the changes needed.

This is how the idea of employee and customer satisfaction surveys appeared and was implemented by decision makers around the modern world, subsequently being copied by numerous companies, until it became a trivial thing. These days, if you have or run an institution that comprises more than thirty employees, it’s seen as bad leadership not to ask them how they’re doing from time to time. And critics who think you are not such a good manager if you don’t attempt to get feedback from the people you work with (no matter if they are employees or clients) are undoubtedly right.

If you live in your own turtle shell and you have no idea of what’s going on outside it, you will probably come to make some really bad calls, decisions that may turn very unproductive for your company. This is why you should conduct surveys. How do you do it? What is the simplest method for distributing questionnaires and collecting responses? The answer is quite simple, actually: think about it – what’s the largest distribution channel you can access? From where do you get your information? How are you able to read this article? (drums rolling…) – the Internet! So, the way I see it, the simplest method is creating and distributing an online survey…

Before the Internet, it was actually quite hard to conduct surveys, due to the fact that the whole process needed to be undertaken by mail, and everybody knows how fast that is, and how secure it is. However, after some entrepreneurs understood they could make survey software and would be able to make a site based on it, the survey industry has changed radically. In 2010, hundreds of millions of surveys are taken online, and there’s nothing to indicate that this is going to change.

So this is why large institutions are conducting online questionnaires. In a century where “speed” is the key word, when we always try to make things faster and better, and with hard competition in practically any niche, institutions simply can not afford the luxury not to make online surveys.

And there are many online tools available. Several of them are great, a few are really bad, and this is why it is necessary to know which one to use. But this will be the subject of my next article. Until then, have a nice day!

May 16, 2010 Posted by | Business, Management | , , , , , | Leave a comment