Posts Tagged semantic web

Search Takes a New Shape

Back in the old days – or the ’90s as some call them – we utilized the Internet as an information resource. What’s that phone number, where is that address, where can I buy that product – you had concrete questions and were no longer required to speak to a human to get answers. Sure, there were bulletin boards and Usenet forums for discussion but they primarily involved coding arguments and game walkthroughs. The Internet wasn’t truly upended into a community, and all that that entails, until just a couple of years ago. It was then that the inundation of bloggers collided with social networking and lifestreaming to produce a perfect storm of content. (And when I say lifestreaming, I mean the trend of putting as many pieces of our life online as possible – books we’re reading, music we like, etc.) We’ve now backed ourselves into a corner online, raging against the indundation of content even as we scroll through our fifth page of FriendFeed updates. We recommend well-written articles about navigating through the noise, right after sharing 25 items in Google Reader.

The logical next step in this technological journey is to therefore prune, to make our time online more meaningful and relevent, no matter how small the nugget of information. Whether I’m setting out to qualify findings in a drug discovery experiment or wondering when Amy Winehouse was last arrested, I want the most reliable, relevant answer in the shortest amount of time. The problem is no longer whether the information is out there but rather how we can get to it quickly and accurately.

It’s against this background that I’m seeing a gradual evolution of the semantic search market. Read the rest of this entry »

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Geekery Fiefdoms at SemTech

For all my stewing about presenting an effective panel here at SemTech, I think we did it in spades this morning. I’m biased of course but if the amount of active, engaged audience members and lively conversation following the panel was any indication, Taking Semantic Technology to the Masses was a success. Thomas Tague, Josh Dilworth, Mark Johnson and I had an excellent discussion about the mess the semantics space is currently in, marketing-wise, and how to dig it out and shine it up for mass consumers. We spent the first 25 minutes parsing the problem – an indication of just how deeply semantics geeks can gaze at their navels – and about 20 more minutes discussing possible solutions.

Thomas coined a term I’m stealing that sums up the semantics space perfectly: geekery fiefdom. It’s a great description of a sector that is striving to achieve traction in the consumer space, but continues to pepper its messaging with semantic buzzwords and discussions of the plumbing behind it all. As Thomas quoted one of his customers in the financial sector, “If you have to explain it, I don’t want it.”

We came to a couple of good conclusions worth mentioning:

1) Companies in the semantic space need to take a portion of their impressive brainpower and turn it toward marketing. With literal rocket scientists on the benches, finding innovative, well-packaged messages around a product and company philosophy should be a piece of cake.

2)UI, UI, UI. Mark mentioned this several times and he should know; Powerset has one of the best out there right now. Once you’ve parsed out the complex algorithms of your semantics company, spend some time on a great design. An easy-to-use, intuitive interface can vault a product to the head of the pack.

3) Play nice and share. (I’m reminded of that annoying book/poster from the early 90s – Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.) It’s simple but true. If semantics companies were more open to partnering with each other, the resulting applications would without a doubt take this industry to the next level. The close-to-the-vest attitude is understandable in semantics, as some very sophisticated and complex platforms and algorithms are at stake, but I think we’ve reached the point where it’s time to open up a little.

Everyone seemed to agree, including members of the audience, that semantics is poised to graduate; that it’s time to dust off this fiefdom and take it out into the countryside among real users. When and how that will happen is still undecided but I’d bet on later this year or early next.

That’s it for the moment from SemTech. I’m huddling with Hakia in a bit and can’t wait to hear their news, then it’s time to concentrate on the French Tech Tour for the next 12 hours. More tomorrow…

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Semantics acceptance via the enterprise

I’m headed to the Semantic Technology conference in a couple of weeks, primed to mingle with the top minds in what is arguably the most exciting sector in technology right now. I’ll be participating in a panel, “Taking Semantic Technology to the Masses,” that tackles a key issue around the semantic Web. How do we take semantics to the next level? How do we extricate ourselves from the convoluted morass of geek-speak to make semantic technology understandable and appealing to consumers?

We’ll dig deeper into the issue at SemTech but I think the broad answer is very simple: remove “semantics” from the equation. I tackled this issue a few months ago, making the point that

…the ultimate solution will likely evolve quietly, organically, behind the scenes of a seemingly run-of-the-mill software app. We’ll raise our heads from our keyboards one day and find that the words we’re typing have taken on a life of their own.

I was reminded of these words recently when I spoke with Semantra, a Texas company that enables employees to conversationally interact with business software. Founded by semantics pioneer Marvin Elder, Semantra allows users, techie and non-techie alike, to easily pull needed information from complex relational databases within an organization. Semantra believes that, while the analytics tools designed for businesses do the job quite nicely, the only people in a company who really know how to use them are in IT. Read the rest of this entry »

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Twine is Lifeline for Semantic Tech

It’s always fun to watch the evolution of a great idea. I first talked with Radar Networks, Twine’s creator, a year ago, in January 2007. In fact, Radar’s was the inaugural profile of The Guidewire Report, kicking off our in-depth look at up-and-coming companies with a bang. Unable to speak specifically to the Twine application (which wasn’t even named at that point), I mixed my praise for the idea with a bit of skepticism.

A Web that learns from its users and manages the infinite amount of knowledge available, in a unified Web-based environment, is without question where technology must head in the next few years….Convincing set-in-their ways consumers that a new form of communication, collaboration and information management is needed is perhaps the biggest challenge. Educating users on the semantic Web and why it should matter to them may require more effort than is reasonable.

It’s surprising that not much has changed in a year. The landscape in which Twine launches is just as undefined, if not more so. The chatter is rising to louder levels, as I mentioned in a recent post on semantics, making it that much harder to clearly define this important but hazy sector. Even worse, any application tied to the semantics label these days carries a heavy weight. So many are touting the life-changing aspects of semantics that disappointment is all but inevitable. By the time you’ve read dozens of articles on the brilliance of semantic apps, you half expect these programs to answer your email and write your blog posts.

It’s into this environment that Twine is finally opening up more – to the press, as of this writing – with 30,000 people on its waitlist and arguably an entire market sector watching. So…. what’s the verdict? Read the rest of this entry »

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Towards the Acceptance of Our Ignorance

I’ve been sitting for awhile on an excellent post Alex Iskold wrote for ReadWriteWeb on the semantic Web. He raises good questions about semantics’ viability in the mass consumer market and what it will take to get it there. However that application ultimately looks, it must, in Alex’s words, “ignite imagination and capture people’s hearts and minds.” Perfect characterization – one I wish I’d come up with.

I hadn’t been able to put my finger on exactly why the post gave me pause. Then this morning it hit me: I don’t know what the semantic Web is. Further, I don’t think any of us do. Read the rest of this entry »

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