Steve Bastasini

Start-Up Ventures / Growth Organizations International Business Development, Strategic Alliance executive, proven leader, entrepreneurial businessman with 17+ years experience driving profitable Business Development & Strategic Alliance revenues in the Internet, Semantic Technology, Semantic Web sectors. Strong cross-functional background with skills in developing strategic sales strategies, business development & strategic alliance processes, complex negotiation skills, corporate development strategies, channel sales and team building. Creative, analytical, decisive, solutions-focused, process driven, strategic sales results-oriented executive. Specialties: Business Development, Structuring Strategic alliance deals, Negotiating and Acquiring formative intellectual property, International Business Development, Vision, Strategy & Execution, Strategic Planning & Direction, Revenue & Profit Growth, Investor & Board Relations, P&L and Operations Management, Client Relationship Management

Have Semantic Technologies Crossed the Chasm Yet?


This article kicks off a series of interviews on Semantic Technologies in the MIT Entrepreneurship Review with industry thought leaders including Thomas Tague (Thomson Reuters), Chris Messina (Google), David Recordon (Facebook), Will Hunsinger (Evri) and Jamie Taylor (Metaweb).

At first sight, the answer is yes. I recently attended the Semantic Technology Conference in San Francisco. What had begun in 2005 as a 300-person conference has grown into a 5-day event with an amazing depth both of workshops and panels and over 1,300 participants this year. The conference is organized by Semantic Universe, an online platform with the goal of “educating the world about semantic technologies and applications”.

I have had the opportunity to talk to some of the key actors and innovators that have pushed semantic technologies and linked data forward over the past years since the term “Semantic Web” was first coined by Sir Tim Berners-Lee of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The term takes on different meanings in different contexts: to some it is about representation of information in certain well-defined formats to make it machine-readable and easy to interpret; to others it is about web services and the aggregation of information to create valuable applications for users, while still others would highlight the artificial intelligence aspect and its use in tackling complex problems.

I have been personally drawn to the field of semantic technologies for some time, realizing the impact that these technologies will have on the way we consume information online as well as on the possibilities from an enterprise perspective. One thing I realized at the conference was that a lot of things that we take granted today, like online recommendations, are already powered by semantic technologies. In fact, a lot of the conversations happening in the hallways, between sessions, were not just around technical topics like how to best construct OWL ontologies or how to structure SPARQL queries, but rather about business issues like designing the right monetization models, improving e-commerce with semantic technologies, gauging the potential business impact of Facebook’s Open Graph, Twitter annotations or Google’s rich snippets. The New York Times, BBC, Newsweek, Tesco, Best Buy are some examples of companies that have been building and are relying on semantic technologies. To me, these are all strong indicators that semantic technologies have reached the tipping point.

Jamie Taylor, Minister of Information at Metaweb, the company behind Freebase, sees clear indications that semantic technologies have become more mainstream:  “Just the sheer size of the conference has increased pretty dramatically, as well as the diversity of people who actually have commercial offerings in terms of tools that matter to your typical webmaster, your typical content manager.” While there is still a strong academic track to semantic technologies, Taylor says, “it’s very interesting that sometimes semantic technologies have met the Web 2.0 lightweight user contribution-type model and as you add semantics into these types of systems – fairly lightweight semantics – all of a sudden they start getting much greater benefit.”

Managing one of the best-known semantic technology start-ups, Will Hunsinger, CEO of Evri, tells me that he has “seen a lot more activity in the last 12 month”. Naming Microsoft’s acquisition of Powerset and Apple’s acquisition of Siri as examples, he also points out that these “transactions have given validation that the technology is here and ready, but also that there is a path to liquidity.” One advice for startups and companies in the semantic technologies sector is to focus less on the technology itself and spend more time understanding consumers’ needs by asking themselves: “What does this technology do better than what’s out there such that you are going to solve a real problem”.  For example, at Evri, he adds “we create a better experience for the consumer applying the technology where it actually has a distinct advantage over keyword e.g. delivering precise results around general topics like “movies” or “reality tv”, understanding meaning and context (e.g. why is a particular entity popular right now) or even enabling consumers to follow topics over time”.

From a technological perspective, the recent developments around RDFa, a simpler version of RDF which allows users to add metadata to their content, will further accelerate the growth of the Semantic Web. Drupal 7, one of the biggest open source content management systems used on hundreds of thousands of websites, comes with major RDFa functionality. The latest HTML5 draft has RDFa support in it. Facebook’s Open Graph protocol is based on RDFa. Google Rich Snippets support RDFa. According to a recent GigaOM report, Twitter Annotations are looking to use it.

The benefits of semantic technologies with respect to making online search better are most obvious and to some extent already observable today. David Recordon, Senior Open Programs Manager at Facebook, sees some powerful applications in search, essentially “giving you a filter into the world based on your friends”. Thanks to semantic technologies built into the Facebook platform “developers [can] build on top of information which people have trusted Facebook with, whether that’s status updates or things they like, people they are connected to […]”. Google’s Open Web Advocate, Chris Messina, told me he agrees that social search will play a key role in the future: “we are starting to see Google integrating Twitter streams in search experience, hopefully providing users with more actionable information, providing a number of different opinions, more contextual data. It is certainly something Google is paying a lot of attention to – information that is contextual to the user, not just generic to the world.”

But what about exploiting the power of the semantic web by pulling in data from different sources, the premise of linked data? Thomas Tague, VP Platform Strategy at Thomson Reuters and in charge of the OpenCalais project, a free service to analyze and extract concepts from user-submitted texts or web sources, told me about the exciting opportunities he sees at the intersection of highly trusted monetized content and free web content. He says that “people are not going to make $100 million bets based on blog postings. But that blog posting may be an outlier, may be an initial indicator, maybe about a layoff at a factory or something like that, that the user can now immediately link back to Thomson Reuters data and gain insight and take action.” While Tague certainly shares the enthusiasm for the growth of semantic technologies and adoption of standards by industry participants, utilization of linked data remains low in his view. Therefore, his short-term outlook with respect to utilization of the linked data cloud, remains rather cautious: “There is a lot of talk about it, but with respect to our linked-data company information, people aren’t picking it up yet very much.”

So what can we expect in the near future? Jamie Taylor tells me that he thinks “the idea that you can aggregate is something very novel: all of a sudden my data is not limited to my data silo.” He distinguishes two types of data: core data, which must be managed by the organization to drive the core business, and context data–such as geo data. He believes that what “semantic technologies allow is in some sense to outsource [context data] to the community for maintenance.”

Overall, there seems to be consensus that as semantic technologies move out of the purely technical corner and beyond the innovators and early adopters in academia and government, content-heavy organizations and users like publishers or e-commerce sites will help these technologies cross the chasm as they see the largest benefit in applying the technology. As pointed out earlier, companies like The New York Times or Best Buy have already begun to build and rely on semantic technologies. As more and more companies start adopting linked data standards and share data in the linked data cloud, we will see more businesses created to derive value from aggregating data across different datasets to provide value to their users.

If this article has sparked your interest into semantic technologies, I can recommend a documentary by Kate Ray, a recent graduate from NYU with a major in Journalism/Psychology, who has contributed to the demystification of the Semantic Web through interviews with thought leaders, including Tim Berners-Lee, Clay Shirky, Chris Dixon, David Weinberger, Nova Spivack, Jason Shellen, Lee Feigenbaum, John Hebeler, Alon Halevy, David Karger and Abraham Bernstein. The clip has been viewed by more than 120,000 people so far. I asked Kate what motivated her to do the documentary: “My dad has been doing semantic web stuff for years, and my entire family never really knew what he was doing, so partly I was trying to make something that all these people here could show to their friends and family. I also had an academic interest in it.” Kate is now working on a company called Kommons, which she describes as a “Q&A forum built on top of Twitter; to let people ask questions to public figures – or anyone – and backing questions you agree with”.

MIT is at the forefront of exploring applications to commercialize linked data and semantic technologies, adding a new seminar, Linked Data Ventures, to the fall curriculum. The class will be taught by an all-star team consisting of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Dr. Lalana Kagal, K. Krasnow Waterman, as well as Reed Sturtevant and Katie Rae. Computer science and business students will work in small teams to develop prototypes based on Semantic Web technologies.

About The Author

Rene Reinsberg Rene Reinsberg is currently a member of the Entrepreneurship & Innovation program at MIT. His interests span Linked Data, Big Data, Open Data, and social graph analytics.

Primal Makes Content Automation Almost Too Easy

With tools such as WordPress, Tumblr and Posterous, you might think there are already enough ways to publish content online quickly and easily. Primal, which is launching at the DEMO conference this week, thinks that it has something extra to offer. The company’s semantic tools allow publishers to create an entire site of interrelated webpages around a topic simply by typing in a few keywords. Unfortunately, the site’s service could make the growing problem of low-quality content on the web worse rather than better.

Co-founder Peter Sweeney got his start putting together websites for companies, then built a business setting up online communities and e-business sites for musicians before coming up with the idea behind Primal. “We are building Internet automation products, and this one is focused on publishers,” he said in an interview before the launch. “We want to make it so simple and easy to publish content online that anyone can do it in a matter of moments.” Other services let people create sites quickly, he said, but with Primal and its semantic tools, “they can create a whole, vibrant community around a topic.”

Publishers start with the service’s “thought networking” tools, says Sweeney, which involves typing in a series of keywords for a specific topic: for example, technology, social media, mobile, etc. The system then goes out to the web, aggregates content relating to those keywords from a variety of websites, and formats that information into a series of pages, complete with related Google ads. The service’s agents create topic sections and other navigation as well, which Sweeney calls a “lattice of ideas or thoughts to frame your work.” Users can choose the content they want, add their own thoughts or images, then publish with a single click (content can be hosted at Primal for free with advertising included, or hosted at a user’s site for a monthly fee).


While Primal’s tools are easy to use, the content that the service aggregates looks almost exactly like the auto-generated pages and websites some companies produce in an attempt to “game” the Google algorithm and generate a lot of SEO for their ads: a conglomeration of content that matches a keyword but is otherwise poorly written and badly formatted. In other words, what some call a “link farm.”

Will Primal’s tools be useful for teachers who want to create course material sites, or small businesses who want to post useful information about their fields? Possibly. But I think they’ll also be very popular with web-spam artists. For all the company’s talk about “community,” there aren’t really any tools — such as comments or voting — that would allow for true community input. Primal is backed by a group of Waterloo, Ontario-based angels, including early RIM investor Jim Estell, and is looking to raise a $10 million round of financing.

Semantifi Debuts First Search App Marketplace for the ‘Deep Web’

Startup Reveals the 'Invisible Web' with Semantic Search Apps that Tap the Power of Community

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Sept. 14 /PRNewswire/ — DEMOfall 2010 Semantifi, Inc., a pioneer in Web Data Search, today publicly launched, a Search App Marketplace that empowers internet users to publish and search structured data. The Semantifi portal enables users to access the 'Deep Web,' which accounts for 99 percent of the information on the internet – but inaccessible to Google and Bing's general purpose keyword search engines.

"The technology of leading search engines works fine for web pages, but not for structured data," said Shree Pragada, founder and CEO of Semantifi, Inc. "This is why using a keyword search engine to find 'digital cameras under $400' or 'earmarks of California Senators' or 'analyst ratings on Microsoft' produces thousands of search results, but does not deliver an appropriate answer." hosts over 50 Search Apps which are focused search engines specific to datasets. Apps include SEC filings, Government Spending, U.S. Economic Metrics, U.S. Census data, Senator Earmarks, Crunchbase and more. Users can ask simple questions, get knowledge based search results and interpret the data with automatically generated visuals – such as charts, graphs, maps and tables.

"Semantifi's Search Apps create the ability to analyze data in new and creative ways," said Bryant Sheehy, Director of Business Development, Zacks Investment Research, Inc. "This new approach to searching and visualizing data has the potential to show investors subtle differences in underlying trends that they can use to make more profitable investments in this volatile trading market."

Unlike keyword or natural language search engines, Semantifi is powered by a patented knowledge base search engine that understands the meaning of words regardless of language structure. This unique technology is hosted at to empower the internet community to search, share and monetize data via the first Search App Marketplace.

Similar to the Wikipedia community model, anyone can use Semantifi to publish and search datasets. Publishers include businesses, government agencies, research firms, content owners and individuals. Apps can be of personal interest, high public appeal or have revenue potential. Semantifi Search Apps can be shared publicly with all for free or only with paid subscribers.

"In the future, search will be powered by millions of community-built Search Apps – not 2-3 general purpose search engines," added Pragada. "Together, we will unlock the Deep Web."

About Semantifi

Semantifi Inc. is a pioneer in Web Data Search with the goal of unlocking structured content within the 'Deep Web.' The portal enables Internet users with a platform to publish and search datasets as Search Apps. With Search Apps, users can ask simple questions, search all published datasets, get relevant answers, and interpret data with automatic visuals, such as charts and tables. The Semantifi portal includes numerous search applications and the company is in the process of licensing its technology to third parties to power Semantic Search across vertical industries. For more information, please visit

All trademarks and registered trademarks in this document are the properties of their respective owners.

SOURCE Semantifi


Trend-Setting Products of 2010 Northern Light, Siteworx, Omtool, Smartlogic – KMWorld Magazine

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