Thursday, June 5, 2008

In 23 Words, The Semantic Web Is...Updated Jun 6

The Semantic Web is an extension of the World Wide Web designed to standardize the integration of data and the interoperation of applications.
Update Jun 6: Today I had cause to use this definition and I'm not sure, but my questioner (someone who's very well informed Semantics-wise) seemed slightly aghast at my brevity and simplicity. I understand completely. It's not a glowing definition, full of promise, imbued with excitement, and burgeoning with opportunity. That's a deliberate choice on my part. From what I can tell, fulsome descriptions haven't worked very well over the past few years partly because the technology hasn't been ready and partly because buyers like CIOs, CTOs, and IT managers of all kinds have heard such promises a million times before.
As a business person, I want people outside the Semantic community to buy products made with Semantic technology (the market outside the community is way bigger.) From my sales experience I know that superlatives alone won't cut it and they'll probably just erode your credibility. But what seems very apparent and very real is the technology's ability to standardize the integration of data and the interoperation of applications. Outside of these two things, I'm not aware of anything else Semantically related that's occurring in a full blown, commercial production environment. 
Inferencing/reasoning, SPARQL queries (even with public endpoints), and the flashy stuff that's so promising probably occurs on a daily basis in tightly controlled environments that engage in what I consider "exotic" research and are overseen by the most highly trained and sophisticated people in the world when it comes to this particular technology. That's a far cry from closing a million dollar (euro, yen, yuan, take your pick) sale for an enterprise application that will see widespread deployment to a relatively untrained audience.
When the Semantic Web evolves to the point where it can fulfill all the promises that people (me included) have invested in it, I'll change my definition. But for now, in terms of what I believe it can reliably do today, I'll define the technology as above, although I'll probably still refer to the future capabilities just to keep it interesting.
Besides, I truly believe the emphasis needs to be on the product (e.g. solution) and not its underlying technology. When Microsoft sells Word or Excel, it doesn't emphasize the use of C and Visual Basic (I admit there are exceptions to this) because that's not what people really care about. They want to be able to create documents and work with numbers. It's that simple.

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