The Small Semantic web – Our Tiny Semantic World

The Small Semantic web – Our Tiny Semantic World

What happened to the small semantic web of our daily lives, our work, and our mundane concerns? The W3C and its cohort of bright allies have authored voluminous specifications and RFC’s that make one’s head ache.

And what has been the result of this academic pouring from the empty into the void?

Nothing; at least from the point of view of the software consuming public, nothing that we can see and feel. Perhaps the arcane world of semantic browser plug-ins, strange new database architectures, and verbal wrangling over, ‘how the semantic web will cure our data ills”, has overshot its target with the goal of either restructuring the entire universe of web information, or has a master plan regarding Web authoring and data schemes of the near future.

But, as of now, we get zip from the Semantic Web. I say again: What about the tiny semantic web of our daily lives? Why have these ostensible geniuses not provided us with services and tools to better organize my information, by lifting structure out of the soup of my emails, bookmarks, profiles, and interests?

Please, puhleeeeze, don’t tell me that these tools already exist. I have a set of del.icio.us tags that point to a plethora of plug-ins, desktop clients, and full-blown applications that have promised to bring the benefit of the semantic-shmantic web to me. They give nada.

But, I do have an idea of what a great little semantic application would do for me, if anyone would listen. I can’t say if it would define ontologies with OWL, and instantiate the triple schema in RDFS. In my world, I have real needs. And, I work with real people in technical professions (skilled service trades and the IT sector) that need real ‘knowledge harvesting’ solutions.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that all the tools, skills, and knowledge are assembled and right out there – currently wasting their collective time trying to create the “Large Semantic Web”, while they could, if steered right, be delivering the very much needed, ‘small semantic web’, of our personal data.

For everyday folks, the blessing would be palpable; for people in the skilled trades and professions that must make sense of dispersed threads of knowledge, it could be a revolution. Here are my thoughts:

Have you read the various articles by Tim Berners-Lee? Have you been following the rounds of cake (VC) being raised by ‘semantic shmantic’ startups like…whoever! Pick one – they are all equally useless to me.

Talk of the semantic web, or any tangential technology relating to semantic tools, have left me with a big, cold feeling. I am starting to feel, and I am not alone, that the folks pushing this promised technology really do not understand what people need – I mean really need.

I am sure from an academic standpoint, this is a valid research concern, and that in the rarefied world of standards and RFC’s, such data definitions need at least a decade to ferment. However, the entire cottage industry of ‘Promising the Semantic Web’, whether in the form of Tim BL’s papers to the startups buggy plug-ins, are just so much disappointment.

In my work as a contract technical Product Manager (utility infielder for incumbent Product Managers), I get to see a lot of vendors and test out many alpha and beta products. Recently, at my contract for France telecom, we had the occasion to have all of the BI and text analytics vendors in – Attensity, Clearforest, all of ’em.

These vendors feature very sophisticated text extraction engines that identify unique elements and clusters. To showcase their muscle, they often provide a Web Browser plug in or extension to post process search results from Google; you can see statistics, clusters, entity relationships, etc. I said to many of these guys, ‘this could be great if it was better integrated with the end-user’s work-flow and a wider index of emails and on-line accounts”. The answer they gave me was that they could not see a business model for the free tools or services channel. This is in stark contrast to the semantic startups that are targeting search and browser add-ins.

These text analytics vendors almost never used the word, ‘semantic’. They were dealing with enterprise level text heaps and integration issues that were hard money and big licenses. They had no time to enter a fray that was so fraught with misunderstandings and hyperbole.

So you see, these vendors, some with expertise, applied technology and justification to use the word, ‘semantic’, held back due to the sober nature of their mission. Where was I?

Oh yes, the small semantic personal web of our lives. Isn’t there a company called, http://www.xobni.com/, that organizes your Outlook (pity) inbox by pulling together topic thread and helping one to discover connections across disparate emails – no matter how far the dates or subject lines. Brilliant.

And what about that email company that Yahoo bought? Kimbra, Zimbra, whatever – when I saw it, I said, ‘yeah, with a little work, I could use that’. Did they kill it off yet?

I need the small semantic web for an increasing number of on-line, in browser activities that make up my daily business life. I am using more on-line productivity services, and while they are great, I need a way to tie that information together and in a non-explicit, non-declaratory manner.

I want to see connections that would surprise and enlighten me – in my own data! I don’t need Adaptive Blue’s hard to use tools telling me that this is a book, and I can buy it here! I’m not picking on them, I tried using their shtick – too much fru-fru.

Give me my small semantic web of my own data. You know, I have avoided using that new-fangled Friendfeed, because it looked like a waste of time, but I have to admit, it has potential.

What does that have to do with my, damnit, small semantic web? I discovered that by pullling some things together from on-line accounts of friends and myself, things I didn’t know before. It’s not what I need, but it gave me an inkling of what I might get someday if:

….the stupid VC’s on Sand Hill Road stop giving money to people who do not understand the bedrock productivity issues facing the users of semantic web technologies. Pull the plug on these over-promising semantic search startups whose founders spend more time at events and on panels that they do at the office.

Stop funding hazy, crazy ventures just because they have the word semantic in the product description.

And, finally, someone do a deal with Kingsley Idehen’s OpenLink Software, in Burlington, MA; the most overlooked and undervalued semantic infrastructure and data platform company in the world (why do the righteous suffer?). There are maybe ten folks who really get the practical nature of semantic technologies, and none of them work at W3C – Kingsley is certainly one who does understand semantic technologies and he delivers complete platforms that enable full solutions.

I know what I want and use the word, ‘semantic’ to rant, whereas Kingsley knows what the word, ‘semantic’ means, and unlike half the pundits out there, delivers tools. That’s even more profound than writing papers, TBL.

What, should I be more deferential?

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