Confernce Hotel Berlin This very cold day in Berlin finds me in the large glass emporium known as the Seminaris CampusHotel Berlin, built on the campus of the Freie Universität Berlin.  I am here with an expected 150 delegates, 50 plus speakers, and 6 exhibitors for the first Semantic Tech & Business Conference in Berlin.  Hopefully I can over the next few paragraphs give you a feel for some of what I experienced on day one.  Obviously with a twin track program I could only experience part of the day, but here we go anyway….

SemTechBiz Berlin 2012 Being the opening speaker, my view of session one was from the stage.  It was great to see so many had made it out of bed, breakfast, trains, planes, and automobiles, through ice and snow to appear bright eyed to discover the Simple Power of the Link. Difficult to report on your own session, but it seemed to be well and interestingly received.  If you want to catch it yourself my slides are available on SlideShare and you might find my earlier post on the topic helpful.

P1000749 Next up was the keynote from the ‘Semantic Fireman’ and Internet Architect, Bart van Leuwen – Real-time Emergency Response Using Semantic Web Technology.  Working with Amsterdam Fire Department over the last couple of years has resulted in 16 fire stations that are using realtime linked data on a daily basis to support their operations.  Bart gave us an interesting overview of how he went about introducing the system and rolling it out across stations in greater Amsterdam.   Moving on to talk about how the data is now published as Linked Open Data via the Kasabi Data Marketplace making it free to query and access.  He explained that his motivation was fear – fear that he or one of his collegues could be injured at an incident, because they did not have the correct information available when they need it. Modern fire engines are stacked with often incompatible communications devices that only partially solve the problem.  Ideally he needs answers to questions he didn’t ask. Bart saw the semantic web approach to be an agile and flexible way to interconnect information. This openness coupled with standardised terminology – Firebrary – has enabled the identification of the semantics around recorded incidents & information and collaboration with other fire departments. 16 fire stations use Linked Data every day. A great start to the conference, demonstrating that there are real applications of Semantic Web technology delivering value today.  For more from Bart check out this interview.

Peter Haase Peter Haase of Fluid Operations presented on Linked Data as a Service.  Extolling the benefits of the everything as a service model from the Cloud Computing world. Peter described how this approach can greatly simplify access to dynamic semantic applications and the data behind them. The next generation of everything as a service is Data as a Service. The virtualisation of data sources where remote sources can be connected in an ad hoc way based upon a federation approach is the core of their Data-as-a-Service.  He went on to describe and demonstrate the technology stack used to implement this. Looks like they are providing a generic environment which can be tuned to specific vertical requirements – for example check out their browser for this conference.

Grabbing the attention of those who could benefit from Linked Data, was the topic of the session from Knud Möller of KasabiExecutive Whispering for Linked Data.  I earlier identified the divide between the Linked Data/Semantic Web enthusiasts, many of whom were sat in his audience, and the executives and decision makers in their organisations who are the gatekeepers to the funds and project initiatives that could demonstrate the benefits of adoption.  Knud took us through lessons learnt from some real world cases such as NTNU, BBC, British Library and the UK Government.  To summarise his approach – don’t try to change the world in one go – don’t talk technology, focus on the benefits, such as bridging silos, agility, industry sector leadership, etc. – use external experts to help and add credibility – start with a small team/project.    Don’t start with the technology – concentrate on the problem and benefits.

P1000754 Another Kasbi staff member Benjamin Nowack’s session From Idea to Web – Linked Data Apps by Example came at us from the other end of the spectrum of issues being discussed in this section of the program – how do you build a Linked Data web application.  A hot off the presses presentations with slides being completed only 16 minutes before the talk. His demonstration of how to navigate your way around the Linked Data ecosystem, identify possibilities, issues and pragmatic solutions, was enlightening.  He explored the issues around data preparation, conversion and enhancement so that it can drive your application before moving on to user interface challenges and opportunities.  His great demo is available to play with at semtech360.com.

P1000756 Paul Hermans’ session From an XML to a Linked Data Open Government Application was an interesting overview of how the migration of a an XML based e-government heritage metadata application, Erfgoedplus.be, to a new Linked Data version.  The initial plan to create a Dutch Google to search 1200 sites did not work.  He shared the experience and challenges around reusing or creating vocabularies, the choice of classes or concepts.  An engaging presentation, hearing tips such as it is a mistake to not put the type of thing in your URI structure.    Although this was a fairly technical session it was great to see him closing by describing how the system is now in use and the benefits of taking the Linked Data approach.  One key takeaway for me was this was all in place without the need for a Sparql endpoint – just lots of files behind an Apache server. Sparql is a future nice to have but not a fundamental need.

The next session I attended was Pablo Mendes A Virtuous Cycle of Semantic Enhancement with DBpedia Spotlight. An explanation of dbpedia Spotlight – a tool for automatically annotating mentions of DBpedia resources in text.  It recognises ambiguous terms in text that it processes and assigns definitions to them by connecting them to dbpedia.  This assignment of semantic relationships, enables enhancements such as semantic indexing, and faceted exploration.  One of the neat things is that, through user feedback it can learn, hence improving the quality of annotation.  A feature that could be applied in a feedback loop to Wikipedia  or within an enterprise to help cold-start a knowledge set.  Pablo showed us screen shots from Sztakipedia a Wikipedia editing toolbar which uses dbpedia Spotlight to suggest meaning/links for Wikipedia content.  A demonstration of how these tools can be used in the enterprise to semantically enrich local content.

The, very long but great, day drew to a close with a set of lightening sessions hosted by Marco Neumann.   Highlights for me included:

  • Michel Li – Why Should I Adopt Semantic Technology – “as a geek I/we have difficulty talking to business”
  • Henri Bergius – Business Analysis with Linked Data – ‘Proggis’ Project control app – but converting desperate data sources to Linked Data to drive their application.
  • Antonia Bradford – Morse: A Visual Paradigm for Creating and Manipulating Semantic Data “not a geek but a data-nerd” showing AB Computing‘s drag-n-drop entity input & link software – don’t show it is Sem Web underneath.
  • Michael R. Alvers – Beyond Google: Semantic Search Not Only for Biomedical Literature – people in Life Sciences spend 2 hours per day searching – too much too fast to note down ;-)
  • David Schrieberg – Semantic Tools for the Publishing Curator – VitalBriefing Luxembourg based semantic search delivering digital briefings forclints in financial sector.
  • Lieven Janssen – The DataTank : Pimp Your Data to the Five Star Level of Open Data – build to help you move up Tim Berners-Lee’s 5 Star model – Open Gov data from Italy & Vienna – process from SHP, Spreadsheet etc files, JSOn output etc. – workbench toolkit.
  • Hans Constandt – Project schoolKID: Linked School Data for Kids, Parents, Teachers, Principals and Government in Flanders – open source project addressing data loss as children move schools – bring in many data sources/formats in and out of schools together.  Technology is only one problem – privacy is often used as excuse to hold on to data.
  • Olivier Picot – Blogomatic : Semantic Information Aggregation

Lots of good networking in the reception at the end.

Looking forward another good day tomorrow.

Richard Wallis is Founder of Data Liberate.