Here’s the latest installment of our Semantic Link podcast, hosted by Paul Miller of Cloud of Data

and joining with me were Christine Connors, Trivium RLG, LLC, Eric Franzon,, Bernadette Hyland, 3 Roundstones, and Andraz Tori, Zemanta

Topics covered this month were:

Semantic Web Light Beer

Image by davidflanders via Flickr

This was to be a pre-conference post to give an overview of what to expect during the week-long, 150-or-so session Semantic Technologies Conference – a gathering of all things semantic.

I wanted to mention a few “views” by which you can consider the landscape, to help navigate the more than 150 sessions:

  • Sector / Industry (such as e-gov, health/life science and pharma, publishing, financial…)
  • By stack-/layer-cake component (the individual technology or standard)
  • By function performed (search, data integration, dynamic categorization…
  • Technical Level – from highly technical, to purely business focused
    W3c semantic web stack

    Image via Wikipedia

And there are related “tracks” that can help you follow any one of these. Whether you’re interested in what the Semantic Web is in general, intricate architectural aspects of the various segments of the semantic web layer cake/stack (RDF, OWL, SPARQL…), it’ll be covered during the week.

Since it is now under way, I’ll mention a few of the points made during the Semantic-Link live podcast on Sunday, an opening sessions that I was part of.  In particular, I wanted to touch on the “Advice to new attendees” (who represented a surprisingly massive portion of those who had already checked in for the week) included [full mp3 here]:

  • Talk to anyone about anything.  This is an extremely diverse, giving, open and accessible group of people.  (Andraz Tori of Zemanta added: while it is great to see people you haven’t seen in a year, don’t talk to the ones you know.  Meet and talk with new ones!).
  • Try to sample from the uniquely WIDE variety of topical material covered.  It is rare that you’ll find the range of material that is accessible.
  • Don’t try to get deeply into the intricacies of each component of the stack.  Instead, get enough of a sense of how each of the components relates to one another – so you can then consider the context of anything you encounter here.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk out of a session you determine is not for you, and head into another you were considering.
  • Value the hallway conversations as much as the sessions themselves.
  • Decide whether you are trying to learn everything and anything you can – or if you are seeking out specific solutions or material to justify an agenda – and navigate accordingly.

One topic released too recently to be on the agenda, is the arrangement between Google, Bing and Yahoo around the common use the Microdata vocabulary (vs RDFa or Microformats), which is less expressive and easier to implement.  The question put out during the opening panel discussion was whether this good, bad, important, unimportant… to the Semantic Web community.  The only consensus of the panel was that it will generate much discussion on all sides of the matter during the week – and that is a good thing.  Christine Connors added that the SEO world will likely jump on this standardization for annotating – and a cottage industry might emerge around people offering to annotate pages.   From my own relatively non-technical perspective, it is strategically positive for the Semantic Web.  To the extent that this opens up the floodgates and generates masses of annotation, there is then much more to be worked with, for RDFa to be added where higher degrees of expressiveness are still desired – and these will surely emerge.

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'Ida' fossil - the Missing LinkImage by Ragnar Singsaas via Flickr

What do you get when you cross a set of technologies with an evangelist, a community activist, a business strategist, a Hungarian from the W3C, an ontologist / library scientist, a standards expert, a seasoned Internet executive, and a Slovenian entrepreneur?

Hopefully, what you get is an interesting discussion.  Eric Franzon from and Paul Miller of  Cloud of Data have organized just such a cross-section of participants for a monthly discussion – The Semantic Link podcast series – on things Semantic and/or Linked – from multiple perspectives.

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table...Image via Wikipedia

I had the honor of being included at the table, and at this week’s inaugural conference call and Semantic Link podcast, we covered our different thoughts on the highlights for the space over the past year, and our hopes and dreams for the year to come.

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Complementary anglesImage via Wikipedia: Complementary Angles

Since Tony Shaw wrote his post about their motivations and intentions in selling the SemTech Conference and Semantic Universe, some others have asked what I was thinking by having proposed it in the first place.  That’s actually pretty easy to explain.

In my initial post about the deal, I touched on my sense that the WebMediaBrands approach to the space, and its efforts to date, complemented what Tony was doing with SemTech.  Sure, they both focused on similar material, and involved many of the same cast of characters, but the interesting part was in their individual strategies and execution.

As background: Outside the more academically focused ISWC, SemTech had pretty much become the annual convention for the community, a good part of which was about migration to the business potential of these technologies.  The energy caught the attention of what was then Jupiter Media, who saw the opportunity to focus right in on what outside business was looking for: how to leverage these capabilities for competitive advantage.

SemTech too was looking to help answer that question – but was doing so within the context of fostering that community and its discovery, with programs structured to focus on sector-specific application.  Jupiter came from the other direction, with the LinkedData Planet conference asking right off, how business can make use, which they sustained in the subsequent Web3.0 Conference, under WebMedia’s Mediabistro.

It is the underlying approaches of the organizers that shines a light on the potential synergies here – the complementary angles – and the benefits should manifest outside the organizers themselves.  The modus operandi in the case of the SemTech organizers has been methodical community building, across academics, standards and business, while that for WebMedia is vertical integration of offerings for their consumption.  So the thinking was that SemTech’s introspective contemplation of the question, and WebMedia’s pragmatic approach would yield brass tacks.

68/365 - TackImage by Niharb via Flickr

To put a shine on those tacks, combining of the big SemTech event with WebMedia’s year-round and multi-pronged focus-within-the-vertical should also help wash away a subtle but present “us versus them” undercurrent from among participants.  For today, the community can ignore any “which team” questions, or what “it” (Semantic Web, Linked Data, Web 3.0, Web of Data) should be called, and who coined which terms.  As one, the combined efforts can focus on furtherance - for interoperability, efficiency, usefulness…  Perhaps we’ll see the first signs of this happening at this week’s Semantic Web Summit, in Boston.

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Image representing WebMediaBrands as depicted ...Image via CrunchBase

Today, WebMediaBrands announced that it acquired the Semantic Technology Conference (SemTech) and Semantic Universe.  SemTech has been the main non-academic annual gathering for the Semantic Technology space for six years thus far.  In the past few years, WebMediaBrands has also been active in the space, with its SemanticWeb and MediaBistro arms, and its organizing of related events including the Web3.0 Conference and before that, LinkedData Planet.

Semantic Technology ConferenceImage via Flickr

W3c semantic web stackImage via Wikipedia

  The combination of WebMediaBrands’ year-round focus on the space (through regional and sub-sector targeted events), with the annual convention that SemTech has been, should result in driving the space forward.  Together, their now complementary efforts should facilitate momentum on the commercial side of the space.  Perhaps we’ll also see the development of some useful industry-wide resources, as a result.

Update: Press release from Semantic Universe

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Sand Hill Road sign from 280 north. Image via Wikipedia

Earlier this week, I attended the VANJ Entrepreneurs Expo & Elevator Pitch Olympics, (VANJ stands for the Venture Association of NJ) primarily to explore paths for a current client. This was a healthy mix of education and marketing, from multiple perspectives including: business and entrepreneurship support entities and associations; professionals; consultants; investors; and early-stage startups and some ventures a bit futher along.  Among the support entities was an alphabet soup of communities, associations, publishers, and institutions such as NJBIN (a network of 12 incubators), NJTC, NJEF, NJSBDC, NJBIZ, NJ Entrepreneur, FDU’s Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship and NJIT’s Enterprise Development Center, and NJ (among others).  There was a helpful panel comprised of professionals and investors (both VC and angels) – each of which first provided an overview of their perspective on what they look for in a pitch and investment opportunity.  They then judged the 20+ pitches which followed, judging them on pitch presentation and their sense of the fundability of each opportunity.

Diagram of venture capital fund structure for ...Image via Wikipedia

I won’t go into the individual companies that presented, but their presentations each consisted of a brief (2 minutes), clear and concice explanation of what they do (in terms of the problem they seek to solve and how they solve it), the challenges they face and how they intend to overcome them, the success they’ve experienced thus far in a quantifiable form and where that is relative to the size of the opportunity, how much they need to get there, and how they intend to use the funds they seek in order to get there.

In addition to being informative, it was a good opportunity to self-assess in the terms that the other startups were looking to satisfy in their own presentations, and to exercise some proclivities – which for me, includes naming and word play…  (I was, after all, sitting next to the person who came up with the name for Viagra!)  The atmosphere certainly got the ideas flowing – yielding my own suggesting to VANJ president, Jay Trien, a phrase for describing their efforts: that “VANJ is doing a service by being an eVANJelist for business and entrepreneurship in the state”.

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Wall Street Sign.Image via Wikipedia

Look for tangible examples of semantic technology being employed, and you often encounter government and life sciences projects, NLP enhanced search services (such as Hakia or Cuil), or the much written about systems such as Freebase or Twine, where the semantic aspects are related to how the information in them is connected (TrueKnowledge brings the semantics closer to the surface).

For the 2008 Semantic Technology Conference, its organizers (Semantic Universe) wanted to take a look at what is going on in terms of applying these capabilities within a few sectors. For this, I organized a panel to discuss the use of the related tools within the financial space. What follows is a summary of an article I wrote on what we learned. The full writeup is in the latest issue of Talis’ Nodalities Magazine (see Issue 3, which is full of great material).

The long and the short of the discoveries were:
- There is in fact work going on here;
- the most visible of which is in financial publishing;
- and most paradigmatic, it seems, is the potential in financial reporting

The article includes perspectives shared during the panel session, which Dr. Christian Halaschek-Wiener, CTO of Clados Management, moderated – as well as descriptions of activities from some who were not able to join us. Key in digging into the topic was consideration of different realms within “finance”, and the business processes within those realms:

§ EDI/Transaction Enablement: Ioachim Drugus (SemanticSoft) EDI related work in Transaction Enablement/Management for the realm of Trading;
§ Credit Ratings: JR Gardner (Digitas) explained large Credit Rating Agency use of taxonomies, ontologies, RDF and OWL to enable interoperability of enterprise systems. Kendall Clark (Clark & Parsia) explained later that their Moodys had motivated and sponsored the recently released version of the Pellet reasoner.
§ Insurance: Jonathan Mack (Guardian Life) gave an Insurance perspective and discussed implementation within large enterprise.
§ Banking: David Palaitis (Citi) shared during our planning efforts that their use of RDF and ontologies for a Fixed Income group to improve the functioning of a legacy Regulatory Compliance system. Similarly, Shahin Nassiri (JP Morgan) outlined having defined a business process taxonomy, and maping applications to that taxonomy using OWL.
§ Identity Management: Tom Ilube (Garlik) couldn’t stay for the panel, but explained their applicability to the consumer needs in banking and finance, with identity monitoring and management built on semantic architecture.
§ Information Industry: Christine Connors (Dow Jones), and Tom Tague (Thomson-Reuters /Calais) shared what they and their media organizations are doing around direct delivery of financial information, with discussion of semantics for machines and people, respectively.
§ Information Services: Leo Keller (Netbreeze) and YY Lee (FirstRain) shared how they utilize NLP and classification capabilities to scour global content and serve up processed information in function-specific wrappers for segments of the financial community.
§ Financial Reporting: Eric Cohen (PriceWaterhouse Coopers) explained the potential impact that XBRL could have on the financial information landscape – from reporting and processing of financial information, to its distribution and analysis. Related to this, Elmar Drewitz (DrewITz Consulting) is working on XBRL to OWL mechanization for transformation of financial reports.

So the value propositions exposed through this effort included not just search efficiency, data integration and interoperability – but business process management, increased delivery speed, security, and user experience/usability, to name a few. Significantly, we also saw that the financial world’s leveraging of these technologies is to come not just of efforts from within, but from the providers of information services to it.

Be sure to read the full article for more detail. Hopefully this is the beginning of the conversation. Where and how else are you seeing these tools being implemented within and/or for financial purposes?

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Cuneiform was the first known form of written ...Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being guest speaker at Seton Hall, where the TLTC (Teaching, Learning and Technology Center) held a session as part of their Summer Series. Not every university has the tech research focus as does MIT, for example – so I really like that the objective of this group is to help their faculty understand and take advantage of available technology to aid in their teaching efforts.

The event was called “Web2.0 Day”, so maybe you’re wondering why they wanted to hear about the semantic web. Part of the point of the day was to clarify some of the language they may hear thrown around about the web, and (pardon the web versioning references) part was to help define and classify the memes – and of course, part was to expose faculty and staff to specific tools they may want to use.

The interesting part of putting the the talk together was in taking a subject around which most conversations are focused on its technical underpinnings, and explaining it in a way that is NON-technical. While this slide-deck doesn’t impart the spoken words during the session, viewing them might still give a decent layperson-sense of what the semantic web is/will be. See presentation below:
(use the control buttons in the window below to page through the slides)

(click “view” if slide pane doesn’t appear above)

Quick update on my “Packed for the trip…” post: We had a surprise guest with us for the panel that I co-moderated at the NY Semantic Meetup that took place this week at the Linked Data Planet conference. Dan Connolly of the W3C wasn’t able to make the conference, so Tim Berners-Lee was able to sit in and participate in what turned out to be a lively discussion.

The room was larger and more formal than our usual New York Semantic Meetup settings – with eight people on the panel, yet everyone managed to fit at the table and get their opinions heard.

We carved the session into two focuses, along the lines of enterprise oriented use on the one hand, followed by the web focused utilization on the other. This is a difficult line to walk after drawing it, as we discovered during the enterprise portion that we were dancing on the other side. One interesting point raised was the possibility of adoption of the technologies being through the -as-a-service providers, where such providers would be the ones handling the heavy lifting, and the enterprises then being more easily able to leverage the capabilities – particularly for interoperability among geographically dispersed and disparate data of their own.

Later, when focused on the web side, we kept dancing back across to enterprise issues – around both impact on business models of opening up data, while at the same time creating different opportunities by changing the value formula from data to the services.

There seemed to be general agreement that it is ok to use whatever format works best for you, proprietary or compliant, when you’re dealing with inside facing data – but that outfacing should be compliant. At the same time, from a flexibility standpoint, RDF lets you go ahead withing having to know the whole of where you’re going. Still, coders would like to see the ability to do so more easily – without having to load libraries in order to do so. There also seemed a consensus that more services need to exist to take advantage of data being out there in order to encourage more enterprises to release theirs.

Rather than re-hash the details myself, I’ll point you to a good blow-by-blow of the panel. Two other write-ups are by panelist Savas Parastatidis from Microsoft, and by my co-moderator, Hank Williams. The latter contains some great commentary and insights that go beyond what was stated in the room.

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