Understanding Semantic Web Technologies

By Ericka Chickowski Print this article Print

The future of data management, integration and search could lie in semantic web technology. Baseline is arming readers with information on semantics technology by examining the niche, the opportunities and challenges it may present to business leaders, IT management and end users in the next few years.

As the amount of information in enterprise databases and online data stores expands exponentially each year, enterprises face the very real problem of sifting through it all and sharing it among disparate systems and end users.

Enter semantic web search technology.

The problem is that as the amount of information and number of systems increases, the more ineffective traditional index search methods become. A cadre of technologists sees hope in the form of semantic technology, a non-proprietary way of categorizing and connecting data with contextual information to make it easier to organize and search. However, many executives simply do not know what semantic technology really is, and the idea of implementing it is about as complex and indecipherable as hieroglyphics was before the Rosetta Stone was discovered.

“Semantic technologies are early in their maturity and market adoption,” Gartner analysts wrote in a report. “Many organizations will struggle to understand semantic approaches and view such technology as ‘bleeding edge,’ avoiding it because they are risk-averse.”

Though some executives are scratching their heads over what semantic technology is exactly, Gartner believes it has the potential to help mainstream enterprises with the growing information management problem. At the Gartner Emerging Trends and Technologies Roadshow in May, analysts with the research firm said semantic technology would be among the 10 most disruptive technologies in the next four years.

The Need for Something Different

As Ted Friedman, analyst with Gartner explains, IT organizations are increasingly being tasked to help users share information—on the Web and within the enterprise. “Sharing of information is getting more and more important all the time for organizations as they try to achieve greater levels of productivity, agility and simply make their organizations more effective,” he says. Unfortunately, information sharing remains a major challenge for organizations, Friedman adds. “They’ve got these silos of information across the business. People don’t really understand where information resides, what it looks like, what it means, or the semantics around it. And as such, they find it difficult to share. In effect, they are talking different languages.”

Within the enterprise, information might be stored in different forms with different contexts and different terminologies surrounding it. For example, a widget might be referred to with two different SKUs in two different databases, or an address might be written in two formats. “Basically, the amount of data is growing, not only in volume but the number of different sources it is coming from,” says Irene Polikoff, CEO of TopQuadrant, which produces tools for developing semantic applications. “It’s beyond the capabilities of the average organization to handle all of this. The pain level is pretty high and growing. It’s a balance between that pain level and any pain level associated with doing something new.”

A growing number of organizations is coming to the conclusion that they can’t really solve this problem using the same methods as before, so new methods are needed, Polikoff says. John Giannandrea of Metaweb Technology puts it simply. “One of the truisms of life is that human knowledge is massive,” says Giannandrea, who researched semantics for years at Netscape and has been helping to develop Metweb’s open, shared database of freely available information. “It’s both messy and highly creative.”

This article was originally published on 2008-08-05
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