Home' Technology Review : March April 2007 Contents 70 FEATURE STORY
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One of the company s early clients is Citigroup. The
banking giant s global head of capital markets and banking
technology, Chris Augustin, is heading an initiative to use
semantic technologies to organize and correlate informa-
tion from diverse nancial-data feeds. The goal is to help
identify capital-market investment opportunities. "We are
interested in providing our customers and traders with the
latest information in the most relevant and timely manner
to help them make the best decisions quickly," says Rachel
Yager, the program director overseeing the e ort.
Others are beginning to apply semantic techniques to
consumer-focused businesses, varying widely in how deeply
they draw from the Semantic Web s well.
The Los Altos, CA--based website RealTravel, created by
chief executive Ken Leeder, AdForce founder Michael Tanne,
and Semantic Web researcher Tom Gr uber, o ers an early
example of what it will look like to mix Web 2.0 features like
tagging and blogging with a semantic data-organization sys-
tem. The U.K.-based Garlik, headed by former top executives
of the British online bank Egg, uses an RDF-based database
as part of a privacy ser vice that keeps customers apprised of
how much of their personal infor mation is appearing online.
"We think Garlik s technology gives them a really interesting
technology advantage, but this is at a very early stage," says
3i s Waterhouse, whose venture rm helped fund Garlik.
"Semantic technology is going to be a slow burn."
San Francisco--based Radar Networks, created by
EarthWeb cofounder Nova Spivack and funded in part
by Allen s Vulcan Capital, plans eventually to release a
full development platform for commercial Semantic Web
applications, and will begin to release collaboration and
infor mation-sharing tools based on the techniques this
year. Spivack himself has been part of the Semantic Web
community for years, most recently working with DARPA
and SRI Inter national on a long-term project called CALO
(Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes), which aims
to help military analysts lter and analyze new data.
Radar Networks tools will be based on familiar ideas such
as sharing bookmarks, notes, and documents, but Spivack says
that ordering and linking this data within the basic Semantic
Web framework will help teams analyze their work more e -
ciently. He predicts that the mainstream Web will spend years
assimilating these basic organization processes, using RDF
and related tools, while the Semantic Web s more ambitious
arti cial-intelligence applications wait in the wings.
"First comes what I call the World Wide Database, mak-
ing data accessible through queries, with no AI involved,"
Spivack says. "Step two is the intelligent Web, enabling
software to process information more intelligently. That s
what we re working on."
One of the highest-pro le deployments of Semantic Web
technology is courtesy of Joost, the closely watched Internet
television startup formed by the creators of Skype and Kazaa.
The company has moved extraordinarily quickly from last
year s original conception, through software development and
Byzantine negotiations with video content owners, into beta-
testing of its customizable peer-to-peer TV software.
That would have been impossible if not for the Semantic
Web s RDF techniques, which Joost chief technology o -
cer Dirk-Willem van Gulik calls "XML on steroids." RDF
allowed developers to write software without worrying
about widely varying content-use restrictions or national
regulations, all of which could be accommodated after-
wards using RDF s Semantic Web linkages.
Joost s RDF infrastructure also means that users will
have wide-ranging control over the service, van Gulik adds.
People will be able to program their own virtual TV net-
works---if an advertiser wants its own "channel," say, or
an environmental group wants to bring topical content to
its members---by using the powerful search and ltering
capacity inherent in the semantic ordering of data.
But van Gulik s admiration goes only so far. While he
believes that the simpler elements of the Semantic Web will
be essential to a huge range of online businesses, the rest he
can do without. "RDF [and the other r udimentary seman-
tic technologies] solve meaningful problems, and it costs
less than any other approach would," he says. "The entire
remainder"---the more ambitious work with ontologies and
arti cial intelligence---"is completely academic."
A Hybrid 3.0
Even as Semantic Web tools begin to reach the market, so
do similar techniques developed outside Miller s commu-
nity. There are many ways, the market seems to be saying,
to make the Web give ever better answers.
Semantic Web technologies add order to data from the
outset, putting up the road signs that let computers under-
stand what they re reading. But many researchers note that
much of the Web lacks such signs and probably always will.
Computer scientists call this data "unstructured."
Much research has focused on helping computers extract
answers from this unstructured data, and the results may
ultimately complement Semantic Web techniques. Data-
mining companies have long worked with intelligence agen-
cies to nd patter ns in chaotic streams of information and are
now turning to commercial applications. IBM already o ers
a service that combs blogs, message boards, and newsgroups
for discussions of clients products and draws conclusions
about trends, without the help of metadata s signposts.
"We don t expect everyone to go through the massive
e ort of using Semantic Web tools," says Maria Azua, vice
president of technology and innovation at IBM. "If you have
time and e ort to do it, do it. But we can t wait for everyone
to do it, or we ll never have this additional information."
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