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The Semantic Web Goes to Work

Analysis: You better figure out what the Semantic Web is and soon, because its concepts have graduated from academia and are starting to contribute to your competitor's bottom line.

But don't worry; you're covered.

If anyone is capable of explaining how the Semantic Web is going to work it's Eric Miller. Not long ago, Miller led the Semantic Web Initiative for the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at MIT. There, Eric's responsibilities included the architectural and technical leadership in the design and evolution of the Semantic Web.

But like the Semantic Web, Miller has shifted his focus toward business. Now he's president of Zepheira, which provides solutions to "effectively integrate, navigate and manage information across boundaries of person, group and enterprise," according to its Web site. Miller will also deliver the keynote address at this October's Semantic Web Strategies conference in San Jose.

Miller described the Semantic Web as a system that takes individual points of data on a network, such as documents or digital media, and allows users to describe the connections between these points in a way that makes those points of data more accessible and useful.

One way to imagine the benefits of semantic technology, Miller told internetnews.com, is to imagine a marketing department and an engineering department working on a product at the same time.

Suppose, Miller said, these hypothetical engineers call the product "Killer-X," but the marketing department names it "Sun-I." The different names could make it difficult for marketers to figure out what the engineers are up to in product development.

But with Semantic Web technology, marketers and engineers could tie the two product names together at an early stage so that later, when developers search for marketing documents related to "Killer-X" the search engine understands it's also looking data related to "Sun-I."

Miller said the pharmaceutical industry is already making good use of this type of semantic technology by allowing researchers working on different projects to share information in new ways.

SchemaLogic CEO Jeff Dirks told internetnews.com his company's business semantics management technology could also help pharmaceutical companies organize their research and data with user tags.

Already, Dirks said, SchemaLogic is providing a similar service for the Associated Press, digital images provider Corbis, Reed Business Services, and the International Press and Communications Counsel.

For these companies, SchemaLogic developed simple ways for content producers to tag their own data, such as news stories and photographs, at the "point of creation" before uploading it the company network.

It's the kind of semantic service consumer-oriented sites, such as Flickr and Facebook, and vertical search engines, such as SecondSpace.com, already offer, but enterprises are only now beginning to understand.

It's why the Semantic Web is finally going to work.

"Companies are recognizing the need and assigning a very real ROI to the implementation of [semantic technologies]," Dirks said. "The market is starting to become aware of these social, collaborative approaches."

Jans Aasman, director of engineering, at Semantic Web consulting firm Franz Inc., told internetnews.com he's noticed the same uptick.

"There's a been a very quick learning process in this community," Aasman said. "It's come from, 'Hey this is a cool technology,' to now, suddenly they're thinking, 'How am I going to use this to save my company money or build new services?'"