Bridging the gap: How Semantic Web can move into the mainstream through SXSW

Personally, I believe that the Semantic Web will become mainstream in the next few years (I actually have a bet on this with some college friends). I know that this is a strong statement, but I am confident that it will happen. Mainstream is defined in Wikipedia as “the common current of thought of the majority.” Furthermore it states that something is mainstream if it “is available to the general public” and it “has ties to corporate or commercial entities.” However, how do you evaluate if something is on the verge of becoming mainstream? I propose the following metric:  inclusion at the South by South West (SXSW) Conference!

What is SXSW?
At SXSW, “tomorrow happens here” (or so their marketing logo says). It is a 10-day conference, which takes place in Austin, Texas, about technology, film and music. SXSW Interactive (the technology part) is the place where web developers, marketers, social media, PR and basically all web related people get together to discuss and learn about the new and upcoming web companies, technologies and trends. Companies such as Twitter, Foursquare and Gowalla gained attraction thanks to SXSW. So if we want semantic web technologies to start gaining traction, this is the place where it should start.

Mainstream for whom?
After reading the wonderful blogpost on the BBC’s dynamic semantic publishing system, it reminded me that the Semantic Web has two audiences: the common web user (my mom) and developers. If my mom were to go to the BBC’s World Cup website, she would be seeing a normal web page…nothing out of the ordinary. However, from the developer’s perspective, using semantic web technologies enabled a new type of publishing platform including easy data integration, inferencing , etc.

Nevertheless, there is still a huge gap in understanding and adoption between semantic web technologies and the general web audience (my mom and developers). I’m not trying to undermine current efforts or accomplishments; instead, look for example at the Semantic Technology conference. This is valid proof that this bridge is being gapped. Starting in 2005 with 300 attendees from a variety of backgrounds (research, academia and entrepreneurs), this past conference had 1200 attendees from large enterprises, government and a lot more startups and entrepreneurs. Creating a conference exclusively around semantics, and seeing it grow demonstrates that interest for semantic technologies is growing…but maybe not mainstream yet. So what else should we do?

Current mainstream state of the Semantic Web
I have a search feed on Twitter for “Semantic Web” and “Linked Data”; and, I can say that almost everyday there is an article being shared. People are definitely discussing more and more about the Semantic Web. Nevertheless, does this mean that the Semantic Web is starting to gain traction and moving into the mainstream? It is hard to judge, but if any of the following examples are any indication, then it would be safe to assume so:

So, I restate my ask: “Isn’t this evidence enough for consideration of the Semantic Web as mainstream?” Clearly, it is becoming more widely available to the general public and increased  ties in the private sector. But, I’m obviously biased, so I’ll let you be the judge.

Moving into the mainstream through SXSW
One way of how we can move the Semantic Web into the mainstream is by injecting semantics into an existing conference that already attracts a broad audience. And that is exactly what we have done! We have submitted over 10 panels and presentations to the 2011 South By South West (SXSW) Conference.

Who is “we”? By “we” I mean two things. First, it refers to Semantic Web Austin, a non-profit that is positioning Austin as a leader in the semantic web technology space. Second, refers to a group of people who responded to a call that I made last month about submitting panels and presentations to SXSW.

Without further adieu, check out all the panels and presentations that we submitted. Remember that 30% of the final decision comes from votes, which starts today and goes till August 27, so start voting!

Panel – Giving away data: was it worth it?
Almost two years after Obama’s directive to promote Open Government (Open Data) standards, we ask the following questions: 1) what are the most significant advancements made possible by this movement? 2) what have been some of the challenges in implementing and executing on the President’s call to action? 3) How are the private and public sectors working together to make this a possibility? 4) What other technical advancements lie in the horizon? This panel will explore the good, the bad and the “what’s next” for the Open Data movement. The potential panelist will be:

  • Tim Berners-Lee (Inventor of the WWW and Open Data advocate)
  • Jim Hendler (Professor at RPI and technology expert at
  • Beth Noveck (United States deputy chief technology officer for open government )
  • Nigel Shabolt (Professor at University of Southampton and technology expert at
  • Sascha Meinrath (Director of the New America Foundation‘sOpen Technology Initiative and Research Director of the Foundation’sWireless Future Program) – moderator

Note: Thanks to Kristine Gloria for helping organize this panel

Panel – Data Nerds Debate: Is Big Data Crushing the Web
Beneath the surface of the web is a cataclysmic explosion of data that continues to grow larger by the second. A variety of factors have led to this phenomenon, from the availability of inexpensive terabyte-scale storage to the myriad methods for sharing data about ourselves. Web data is growing at a record pace – and data junkies will soon rule the tech world. 50 million tweets per day. 1.2 million photos served per second. 50 million websites added annually. The question is, how are we expected to build the next generation of technological innovations on top of this ever-growing Everest of data? To be honest, it can be daunting.

In this panel, we’ll discuss how big data on the web changes the game for everyone. Is Hadoop good enough to manage this data explosion?  Is massive web crawling dead? Is it even feasible to make such vast amounts of data open to everyone, and how do people even tap into it? Should the average Joe even care? This panel will discuss the impacts of big data on the future of the web, and debate how data will impact the next decade in tech. Potential panelist are the following:

  • Infochimps
  • 80 Legs

Panel – What the F*** is the Semantic Web?
Juan Sequeda – University of Texas at Austin/Semantic Web Austin
You may have heard about it. You may or may not even understand what it is. You may be very skeptical or even call bullsh**. Or you may thing there is a potential. What am I talking about? The Semantic Web.

The web that we are all used to is a web of documents where we search for things inside of documents. The Semantic Web enables a web of data, which makes the web appear as a giant global database. The Semantic Web is here and organizations such as the Drupal, New York Times, Best Buy, Thompson Reuters and even the US and UK government make part of this reality together with Google’s Rich Snippets and Yahoo’s Search Monkey. The Semantic Web is already changing the way we search, do SEO, find information, integrate data and create web applications.

Surely, with all of the skeptics in the crowd, we expect this to be a lively discussion. We intend to interact with the audience as much as possible; so come prepared with questions. Let us prove to you why we see the future of the Web to be Semantic.

By the end of this panel, all the intrigued people should leave with a clear idea of what the Semantic Web is and all the skeptics should drop their skepticism.

Beyond Social Marketing: Leveraging the Web’s Knowledge Stream
John De Oliveira – Hoovers/Semantic Web Austin
Zach Richardson – Locus
The social web isn’t just for the marketing department anymore. As businesses become increasingly skilled at using social media for advertising and brand building, the next round of technologies are emerging — technologies that will put real-time social data to work in all corners of the business. For example, a purchasing manager preparing to buy a new video conferencing system will chat directly with recent purchasers, helping him to strike a better deal. Triggers that respond to trending Twitter topics will auto-generate tasks across the business. And startups will receive almost instant attention from the companies that would benefit most from their products.

See what happens when the leader of social strategy for a multi-billion-dollar content company teams up with the winner of MIT’s Linked Data contest to look at the Web in a new way. You’ll learn some fancy new terms, like “disambiguation” and “triple store”. More importantly, you’ll see how your business can use facts extracted from real-time social data to make better choices and accelerate your success.

Beyond Wikipedia: Crowdsourcing Structured Data
Mark Greaves – Vulcan
The immense success of Wikipedia has inspired people to imagine new ways in which crowdsourcing can solve old problems.  One promising direction involves leveraging established wiki techniques crowdsource raw data, in a way that supports collaboration over the structure and schema of the data as well as its values and instances.  Five years ago, the open-source Semantic MediaWiki (SMW) project was started to create software to enable a new type of wiki-based environment based on these principles. The goal of the SMW project was to allow wiki contributors to author basic data elements and data types in their articles in addition to the normal text, and to support user queries over the authored data. It was a simple and extremely powerful idea, and SMW now encompasses an active worldwide developer community.

In this presentation, I will describe SMW and the technologies that support the successful crowdsourcing of raw data.  I will show how the various data-oriented features of SMW provide a set of compelling new capabilities for wiki authors (generated information graphics and consistency checkers) and for wiki readers (faceted navigation, sophisticated queries, interactive visualizations).  I will illustrate the technology with several examples of different applications which have been built using SMW.  Finally, I will conclude by showing a prototype of a new type of online encyclopedia, an “analytic encyclopedia,” which extends Wikipedia into the realm of structured data.

Data Driven Marketing
Dhruv Bansal – Infochimps
Data is no longer just a back-office asset. Sharing data—and collaborating on its creation and enhancement—with your prospects, customers, and partners is quickly becoming the new way to build and strengthen relationships in the front-office too. Savvy marketers should be asking themselves: what data could I share far and wide to help grow my market and boost my brand? Companies such as Factual, InfoChimps, and MetaWeb are leading the charge with this vision, and in this session we’ll explore the business and marketing opportunities that they enable.

Drupal 7: Spice up your content with tasty semantics
Stephane Corlosquet – Massachusetts General Hospital
Lin Clark – Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI)
Don’t repeat yourself! And don’t repeat the Web. Instead, reuse content from across the Web with Drupal’s Semantic Web tools.

Programmers have been following the philosophy of Single Source of Truth in their code for years. Smart (and lazy) programmers know that reusing code is the only way to get the job done right—to do more, write less, and make changes in one place.

Even more time consuming than maintaining repetitive code, though, is maintaining repetitive information. Feeds help share and reuse content, but only provide simple streams of information. APIs can be used to target information, but developers have to learn a new API for each service.

Lately, easy ways to single source content on the Web are appearing with new Semantic Web tools. Now you can use Wikipedia, the New York Times, or even your friends’ Web sites as your database—all without learning custom APIs. In Drupal 7, you can pull specific information, on the fly, from sites across the Web. And on the other side, you can expose your content for reuse and feed sites with your information.

Just as users don’t handcode HTML today, users can reap the benefits of SemWeb tech without having to learn all about it. With RDF in its core, Drupal 7 takes web publishing to the next level by annotating content with semantic markup. And with contributed modules, it’s easy to query other Web sites for their content without learning any new query languages or writing any code.

Eight Web 3.0 Technologies Marketers Must Learn Fast
Tony Shaw – Semantic Universe
This is solo presentation which will explain eight technologies that marketers should learn fast: RDFa, Linked Open Data, Ontologies, Semantic Publishing, Contextual Advertising, Deep Web, Listening Platforms and Data Branding.

Left brain search = Google.  Right brain search = ???
Nik Daftary –
Ever wonder why Google isn’t very helpful in finding something fun to do tonight? Search engines have gotten really good at finding information, but they haven’t been equally great in helping us to use that information. Enter mood-based search.  By focusing on searching how we naturally think, talk and feel about the matter at hand, we can begin to find information that’s relevant to us both logically and emotionally.

In this presentation, we will focus exclusively on the world of live entertainment and how mood-based search technologies might just be the next big thing for this industry.

RDFa, Microdata and Microformats: Gateway Drugs to the Semantic Web
Jay Myers – Best Buy
Semantic technologies are experiencing a “coming of age” and are more accessible to web developers than ever before. The big guys like Facebook (OpenGraph), Yahoo! (Search Monkey) and Google (Google Rich Snippets) are utilizing semantic markup to improve search results and more easily index key data on the web. With the amount of total digital information estimated to hit 10 zettabytes in 2015 and 25 zettabytes in 2020, building a strong web of data for both human and machine consumption is an emerging need — a need that can be addressed by any web developer, using current semantic technologies.

This presentation will cover the basics of the semantic technologies, from research and concepts to RDFa and popular ontologies. We’ll look at examples of semantic markup currently in use, exploring how these technologies are starting to solve real world challenges and problems. We’ll also take a futuristic look at the possibilities and power of a very rich web of data.

Semantically Yours: Dating Tips for the Semantic Web
Kevin Lynch – TriviumRLG
Christine Connor – TriviumRL
“For LTR, Symmetry. Dependent graphs welcome. Physical location irrelevant. Stability critical: will only respond to persistent URIs. Query my namespace to begin the adventure of a lifetime!”

Can you help your data find Miss Right? Yes, because you now have smarter data to create user experiences. The data has become so smart that the development of its own persona becomes valuable. Discover how smart data personas can be part of your development toolbox. By anthropomorphizing smart data, a persona based on the properties of the data and relationships reveals possibilities typical personas do not. See the smart data persona, the underlying semantics that made it possible, and how to make smart data a first-class citizen in your design process.

“Smart data” carries meaning with it, enabling machines to make better decisions with less processing. When those meanings are well-defined and shared, such as in the case of the extremely simple and popular Dublin Core vocabulary, the data itself creates powerful relationships.

We designed a search application using the Dublin Core, FOAF (Friend-of-a-Friend), and SIOC (Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities) vocabularies. We show the data persona, the application, and what makes them “smart” in this presentation, geared towards intermediate-level web developers who want to semantically-enable their social applications.

Twitter Annotations and the Real-Time Semantic Web
Josh Shinavier – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
There’s more to the real-time Web than snippets of text. Real-time services such as Twitter and Facebook have, additionally, begun to provide rich, structured metadata for use by applications: data about places, events, web pages, and, with Twitter Annotations, anything else describable in JSON or XML. This data opens the door to mashups with the large bodies of linked data already deployed on the Web, enabling new and smarter applications. Instead of a stream of tweets tagged with #sxsw, for example, how about a stream of tweets by anyone attending SXSW, about films by young French directors or presentations by anyone the user has co-authored an article with.

In such scenarios, the Semantic Web offers a shared information space in which applications can simultaneously interact with data from disparate datasets and real-time services, cutting down on case-by-case application logic and manual integration of data sources.

This session will explore the intersection of Twitter Annotations with the Semantic Web, including:
1) interlinking Annotations resources and vocabularies with the Web of Data
2) using graph databases for geospatial and temporal search on the Semantic Stream
3) Annotations and the Internet of Things
4) social network anaysis enabled by Annotations and linked data
5) tools and techniques for end-user application development
See also ReadWriteWeb, “How Twitter Annotations Could Bring the Real-Time and Semantic Web Together”:

The SXSW Interactive organizers are looking for high quality and more technical presentations. There is a larger emphasis in solo/duo presentations. I personally believe that we have high quality submissions that appeal to a broad general audience. What is the next step? The PanelPicker is live, which is the way for everybody to vote for their favorite submission. Therefore, I urge this community to vote for all these submissions so we can help the semantic web get broader traction.


nice post!!

nice post!!