Myths About Semantic Technology, Part II - The Business Myths

Loraine Lawson

By now, you've no doubt heard about the promising implications of the semantic Web and semantic technology.


But, until recently, much of what was written about semantics described it as a near artificial intelligence, with huge implications for the Web, but precious little to add to business IT. In the past year, more has emerged about how it would actually function, but still, very little had been written about how how semantics could be used within enterprises or other organizations.


This year, that's changing. Recently, I've found a slew of articles on this very topic, thanks in large part to two publications - the Data Strategy Journal and the spring edition of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Technology report - focusing exclusively on the topic.


Reading through these pieces, I realized there's probably a lot of misconceptions about the semantic Web and semantic tech in general -- and in particular, about how this will impact businesses. On Friday, I looked at three semantic Web myths and the corresponding realities:

  1. Semantic technology is only for the Web.
  2. The semantic Web will be separate from the one we use now.
  3. Semantic Web technology is really only for accessing structured data.


Today, as promised, I look at three more myths, each related more specifically to semantic tech and business IT:


Myth: The semantic Web will make all of your information available to anyone-even you don't want to share!
Reality: ReadWriteWeb, in a nice summary of the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report on semantic technologies, points out that the report takes this myth to task:

"The problem that enterprises often face with Web technologies is the lack of control they introduce. PwC acknowledges this, but says that enterprises only need to control some data - not all of it. To take true advantage of the Web, says PwC, enterprises need to be able to take advantage of its scale -- and that's not possible without giving up some control. So PwC advises enterprises to 'limit your controlled environment to what you don't have to scale.'"

Myth: The semantic Web will require you to invest heavily in creating an ontology.
Reality: Actually, there's a lot of opportunity to piggyback on other people's works, as Brian Schulte, an expert in MDM deployments, points out in the Data Strategy Journal article on MDM and semantic technology. For instance, and DBpedia created ontologies and made them available online. You could use those ontologies, modifying where you need to be more specific. The idea is to create a snowball effect. "Ideally, you make public the non-sensitive elements of your business-specific ontology that are consistent with your business model, so others can make use of them," says Schulte.
MDM and semantic integration.

Myth: This stuff is all theory. No one's actually doing anything with semantic technology.
Reality: Oh yes, they are. Yahoo unveiled SearchMonkey, a semantic search tool, in March, and Google recently announced Google Squared, a new Labs tool that uses semantic technology for search. Google also unveiled a "Rich Snippets" enhancement to its search tool.Rich Snippets decodes two semantic standards, RDFa and microformats and, according to Tim O'Reilly, it could be a significant turning point for the Semantic web.


But again, this isn't just for search engines. The PricewaterhouseCoopers Tech Forecast includes a piece on how the semantic Web might be used to improve cancer treatment, discusses shared ontologies in the oil and gas industry, and offers examples of how early adopters are introducing semantic Web to the enterprise. It also includes a list of vendors who have started to incorporate semantic tools, including Microsoft and Oracle.


Hopefully, you've found this list of six myths and their corresponding realities helpful. I suspect we'll hear more later this month on how semantic technologies can be applied in an enterprise setting, since the SemTech Conference 2009 is scheduled for June 14-19 in San Jose, California. The program includes a number of sessions focused on how semantic technology can be used to solve existing business problems.

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