Memo to the Semantic Web

Everyone on the panel was agreed in stressing the importance of building applications that solve real problems for real users. Neither users nor investors are particularly interested in being pitched with ‘the Semantic Web’ or ‘RDF’ or ‘triples’; they want applications and solutions.

[From Commercialising the Semantic Web | The Semantic Web |]

Dear Semantic Web:

Most of the time I have no fucking idea what you are talking about when you explain why I should care about semantic web technologies. I really want to get excited about you but after several “year of the semantic web” declarations and very little evidence of end user benefit, well I just gloss over your pronouncements now.

I’m quite confident that in your abundant wisdom you have created something transformative and meaningful but I would implore you to move beyond “something” to “a thing”. In this user driven world I don’t even care about the semantic web pieces… I don’t know how a microprocessor works either but I know it’s a critical component.

While the efforts to define semantic web technologies are theoretically proscribed in an open standards process it has the imagery of a politburo directing the proletariat. It may well be that these core technologies reside on a level of the geek stratosphere that is well beyond the vast majority of us regular folks, but we don’t need to be reminded of it.

Lastly, solving big hairy problems is likely the destiny of semantic web technologies but as Fred Wilson recently pointed out, you eat an elephant one bite at a time.

Yours Truly,

Someone Who Loves You

5 thoughts on Memo to the Semantic Web

  1. RSS found a killer app – reading blogs. Event today my RSS Reader has no other feeds except blogs. I suspect RDF, for all its world hunger solving claims, would have to find something humble to solve. Till then, unless I go back to school for a PhD – I will continue to gloss over RDF. Finally, here is a sad comment. Twitter>RDF

  2. That's awesome Jeff! I got a good laugh and for the most part agree with you. I do see the benefits of the semantic web… my graduate thesis was on this topic SIX YEARS AGO and not much has changed (that says a bunch right there and validates your point). However, recently there has been some progress. I think Alex and company at Adaptive Blue (and a few others) are doing a pretty good job of nibbling the elephant's rear end and actually doing something on top of this fuzzy notion of a semantic web.

  3. Hi Jeff – Hopefully I can interpret this topic in a more understandable voice, but whack me if not. The semantic PUBLIC web is going to take a long time (forever? never? not today certainly) to get going, but "doing the semantic web" within organizations is easier (not easy, mind), and much more directly useful, as long as it's targeted. Perfect example: Pharma companies doing drug development. They have multiple R&D projects going on across the globe, in many cases, whether purposefully or accidentally, these teams aren't aware of what each is working on (there are plenty of valid reasons for siloing the teams, BTW). Sometimes they are searching for a solution to a known problem (how can we cure cancer?), sometimes a side-effect becomes a huge (pun intended) selling point, and is an accidental discovery – Viagra being the prime example. One guess what the side effect was. If you have semantic linking across all of the content in the pharma R&D organization, you can cross-link what might have been classified/structured as a side-effect, linked over to the primary effect they're aiming for, and vice-versa. Which lets you find alternate uses for a potential drug, like the Viagra mention above. You can also intelligently translate between "scientist speak" (the molecular structures they're using, in chemical notation, perhaps) and "sales guy speak" (who needs to speak to doctors and phamacists in getting the drug out to market) as well as "the average guy" speak so that you or I can go and get something for our headache, and don't have to worry about chemical names. The semantics behind the scenes let you manage and find all of that without having to be a scientist, sales guy, or any other "specialist" – as the links pave the way between all the bodies of content. Some of this can be done automatically, some of it, for the forseeable future, will need at least some manual intervention. But if semantic algorithms can weave together all of these potential connections that would just be obscenely painful to do manually, you can see that the R&D guys might find solutions to what ails us that much faster, rather than stumbling in the dark. And that's a good thing. Re-invention is a very bad thing, particularly in an age where it can easily cost hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a drug to market, you want to find a use for that work before just saying "whoops, that didn't work out" – so alternate uses are saving grace. BTW – anyone interested in semantics, or the more mundane and typical aspects of search, navigation, ways of organizing information, etc., we're about to close down our survey on Findability (enterprise-focused, but not exclusively). Find the survey at – the free report is due out at the end of June, along with a companion free public webinar discussing the findings of the research. Pre-register for the webinar at Did that help the conversation? I hope so. If not, let me know. My main point, semantic web anything is still very cutting edge. So for most people, I'd recommend going back to basics before leaping into the abyss. Cheers, Dan

  4. Hi Jeff – want to come to San Jose for a drink next week, and I'll try to convince you?

  5. Pingback Jackie Danicki » Memo to the semantic web

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