Dan Misener of The Globe and Mail has offered a perspective on how semantic web technologies can be incorporated by small businesses. Misener quotes Diane Mueller of ActiveState: “The tools to create ontologies and to map your domain knowledge are getting easier and easier to use. So it’s happening, it’s just not quite here yet.” Misener adds, “Her primary focus has been large-scale finance and accounting, but she also sees potential for small businesses to use semantic technologies. Ms. Mueller says a human florist can give you a quote for all-red flowers in June, ‘because they’ve got years of experience figuring out that question. They know how to price out that wedding.’ In theory, a computer could use semantic techniques to do the same thing. Much of the information needed is already online. ‘We know what the weather is. We know where the flowers grow. We know how much they cost year-over-year. All those datasets are becoming available.’ The problem, Ms. Mueller explains, is that there’s nothing connecting those datasets.”

Misener goes on, “That’s where the Semantic Web comes in. By creating ontologies (machine-readable explanations of the relationships between bits of data) businesses can begin to combine information from disparate sources, making it more useful and valuable. Ms. Mueller says that, for certain domains, such as finance, accounting, and clinical trial research, detailed ontologies exist and are being used. But for many other fields, ‘the ontologies are not there yet. The ontologies are still in the head of the florist who’s been in the business for 20 years.’ For small businesses, this is both a challenge and an opportunity. If there isn’t an existing ontology for your field, ‘all that information is locked in somebody’s head’.”

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