Approximately 1200 people attended the 2011 Semantic Technology Conference hosted in San Francisco, CA. At least a large portion – if not the majority – were first-time attendees. Products, technologies and methodologies advancing the Semantic Web (aka Web 3.0) crystallized the vision of the “web of meaning” more than ever. The focus of the community seemed rather sharp: Linked Data. As an individual who has been involved the Semantic Web since about 2001, it was rewarding and encouraging observing the steady progress in the space.
From a competency and expertise perspective, it validated my own company’s focus on developing Linked Data using (W3C) RDF. I liken Linked Data to building a foundation. Concentrating here is appropriate, and an increasing number of tools augment our collective ability and efficiency to create Linked Data. Within the Linked Data construct, the conference provided a large number of examples that highlighted approaches and architectures to design, build and deploy Linked Data.
Linked Data yields context. Context is crucial to realize the simple capability to “know what we know.” Creating a graph that connects and relates data and data elements allows applications to enjoy a global view of information. The “Giant Global Graph” will increasingly pervade web oriented architectures and data-based applications. Similar to HTTP which provides the foundation for data communication for the Web, RDF provides the foundation for machine interpretable context. The Giant Global Graph will serve as a pillar to create a coherent Web that will more rapidly and completely provide all available, relevant information on demand. We will know (more of) what we know. Simple, yet profound.
As I listened to Mr. Dennis Wisnosky, the Chief Technical Officer and Chief Architect of Business Mission Area for US DOD, discuss “…transformation…architecture…SOA…semantics…”, I thought to myself “Does he understand the enormity of the task?” Transformation has morphed from a “dramatic” concept to a “standard”, if not obligatory, word. Then, I thought about men who built bridges to connect vast expanses; and others who hammered steel to wood to form railroads stretching almost endlessly across continents to link cities and towns. These people achieved monumental tasks. Likewise, so must we.
From a pragmatic perspective, they built these infrastructures to enable interactions such as commerce and transportation. From a philosophical point of view they built these, perhaps “to break through to the other side; to connect.” Similarly, the Semantic Web represents an enormous task of building infrastructure. After we accomplish this task, we will better empower intelligent software (agents) to reduce human toil. We will cross yet another chasm, and clear the way for more learning and growth.
Given precedent and the resulting capabilities the world must embrace Linked Data, and drive one section of railroad at a time. We must liberate data one bridge at a time. The tools exist; the methodologies are defined; the incentive compels us. The 2011 Semantic Technology conference illustrated vividly that Linked Data technologies and methodologies are ready for “prime time”. Maybe a word of caution is in order. If you find yourself asking the question along this theme “What if this isn’t the best way to describe my data?” simply keep forging ahead one data link at a time.
Sam Chance has participated in the Semantic Web community since 2001. He currently leads an Independent R&D program and serves as the Principal Technology Consultant at Inovex Information Systems, a leading provider of information technology solutions and services to the U.S. Government and private industry.