Semantic Web, Open Semantic Framework

One of Semantic Web’s Core Added Value

If I ask the question: “What added value(s) does the Semantic Web brings on the table?”. So, what are the benefits that companies and organizations would get from using the Semantic Web? I am pretty sure that after asking this question, I would get answers such as:
  • You will instantly be able to traverse graphs of relationships
  • You will be able to infer facts (so create/persist new knowledge) from other existing facts
  • You will be able to check to make sure that your knowledge base is consistent and satisfiable
  • You will be able to modify your ontologies/vocabularies/schemas without impacting the description of your instance records or the usability of any software that use it (unlike relation databases)
  • And so on…

All these answers would be accurate. However, what if these answers would only be a part of the real added value that the Semantic Web brings on the table?

Note: when I refer to the “Semantic Web” on this blog post (and across all my writings), I refer to a set of technologies, techniques and concepts referred as the Semantic Web. So it is not a single thing, but a complete set of things that creates new ways of working with, and manipulating, information.

Strong of about 7 years of research and development of Semantic Web technologies that includes about 3 years of developing the Open Semantic Framework, that the biggest added value that I found from utilizing Semantic Web technologies is only partially related to these answers. In fact the biggest added value for me, as a developer can be resumed in one word:

PRODUCTIVITY

As simple as this. The biggest added value I gained from using and applying Semantic Web related technologies, techniques and concepts is an important increase in development, and data integration productivity.

Such productivity gain as to do with one of Semantic Web’s core attribute:

FLEXIBILITY

This is what I was suggesting in my latest blog post about Volkswagen’s use of the Open Semantic Framework: how Volkswagen uses the Open Semantic Framework to get flexibility that will lead to a gain in productivity to integrate, publish, and re-contextualize their data assets. The few gains that I listed above are part of the reason why the Semantic Web gives you flexibility that leads to an increase in productivity.

This same point as been re-affirmed today by Lee Feigenbaum in its latest blog post Saving Months, Not Milliseconds: Do More Faster with the Semantic Web:

Why is this? Ultimately, it’s because of the inherent flexibility of the Semantic Web data model (RDF). This flexibility has been described in many different ways. RDF relies on an adaptive, resilient schema (from Mike Bergman); it enables cooperation without coordination (from David Wood via Kendall Clark); it can be incrementally evolved; changes to one part of a system don’t require re-designs to the rest of the system. These are all dimensions of the same core flexibility of Semantic Web technologies, and it is this flexibility that lets you do things fast with the Semantic Web.

Warning: Productivity is not synonymous with simplicity

However, I would warn people that think that productivity gains are possible because semantic web technologies are simpler to use, manage and implement than other existing technologies.

It is certainly not the case, and I don’t think it will ever be. Semantic Web technologies, techniques and concepts are not easy to understand, and have a big learning curve. This is partly true because these techniques, technologies and concepts are relatively new in the field of the computer sciences, and because they are not fully understood, defined, implemented and used.

6 thoughts on “One of Semantic Web’s Core Added Value

  1. I think if you ask that question to 99.5% of people, the answer will be “Huh? What is Semantic Web?” I’m really just starting to scratch the surface of the semantic web, but it seems to me to be way too academically inclined for most people. Even for people with academic degrees.

    As for the benefits, I agree 100% about productivity, but is the flexability really that important? I’m not so sure…. I would think that most people could adapt to an ontology with time.

  2. Hi Rob!

    Well I understand your position, and why you are saying that it looks too academic. In fact, many, many people have this impression (including me). There are a few reasons, why, I think, that everybody have this impressions.

    First, it really looks like academic because most people working in the fields are academicians. Academic papers are written, published and discussed. Academic cliques exists everywhere, and dogmatism is never far. This is symptomatic of where it comes from, but this is something that will change, over time, as companies and organizations starts to work with it, and implements parts of it.

    The second reason is that the concepts are completely different. A minding switch is needed to develop systems using these technologies, techniques and concepts. If you worked for decades with the RDB stack, you will find these things weird and too academic.

    To my experience, the productivity gain comes from the flexibility of the framework. It enables us to prototype and test systems more quickly. It enables me to load and integrate heterogeneous databases pretty quickly into a canonical portal. This enables us to use the same technology stack, and the same principles, for several completely different clients (cities, US federal organizations, private businesses such as Volkswagen). The flexibility in data integration is a major factor in these days, with all the data that exists out there.

    I totally that people could (and will) adapt to different ontologies over time. I really do believe that everything, in the future, will be describe using ontologies (ontologies are the relational schemas of tomorrow). It is the natural next evolutionary step in terms of data description: from relational tables to graphs.

    Will people “grok” it? Sure they will, and they already are. We have clients that had no knowledge in any kind of data description frameworks that are now maintaining their own ontologies with thousands of concepts. So, is it possible and is there hope? Certainly.

    Thanks for your comment!

    Take care,

    Fred

  3. In my mind the productivity comes from the natural grouping by association types and the ability as you said “instantly traverse graphs of relationships”. IMO – The flexability is the achilles heel because with the technology that makes up the sematic web it is easy to get caught into a perpetual cycle of scope creep where you try to be all things to all people, but to me, the concept that I could something like seamlessly link from a person -> to their location -> to the current weather for their location -> to learning about hurricanes is fascinating to me.

    Of course, having the ontology to describe this an a UI/UX that’s make this easy is not straightforward.

  4. Hi Rob,

    In my mind the productivity comes from the natural grouping by association types and the ability as you said “instantly traverse graphs of relationships”.

    Yes, I agree with you, but I would nuance by saying that all these abilities, given by the framework (on the TBox’s side with the ontology, or the ABox’s side with the instance records) is what gives additional data description/integration capabilities (and flexibility).

    The flexability is the achilles heel because with the technology that makes up the sematic web it is easy to get caught into a perpetual cycle of scope creep where you try to be all things to all people

    I think there is an important thing to keep in mind here: I am really talking about the Semantic Web, so the set of technologies, techniques and concepts that defines it. And not about an actual piece of software that uses some of it.

    I would agree with you if we are talking about, let’s say, a specific piece of software that just has all kind of unrelated capabilities.

    However, I don’t agree with you from a pure “Semantic Web” standpoint. To me, the Semantic Web tries to do a single thing, but as best as it can: defining, managing, publishing and reasoning on data.

    But how you development/implement this is totally different. I would agree with you if you tell me that the scope of ontologies *have* to be well defined and that the flexibility of the framework (OWL in that case) can be Achille’s heel since you have the possibility to do anything. (For example, defining all kind of concepts such as documents, projects, organizations, images… and person; in the FOAF ontology).

    But as I am writing for years now, the reason why the flexibility of the framework (OWL RDF in this case) is a productivity gain to me, is that it gives you the possibility to integrate any kind of data sources in a cannonical format (and this is only possible because OWL RDF is expressive (and so flexible) enough to describe any kind of data).

    but to me, the concept that I could something like seamlessly link from a person -> to their location -> to the current weather for their location -> to learning about hurricanes is fascinating to me.

    I can’t agree more. But see, what if their location come from an Android devise, if the current weather comes from a CSV file from some weather website, that the description of their location comes from Geonames.org (its RDF representation) and that hurricanes descriptions come from some textual scientific documents? The Semantic Web’s flexibility is what will help you being more productive, since you will be able to integrate all this information, in the same cannonical format, and so, being able to manipulate that same information using the same tools you have (generic and/or specific to this only usecase).

    This is why I am saying that the flexibility of the framework is *one* of the main added value of the Semantic Web 🙂

    Thanks for this discussion!

    Take care,

    Fred

Leave a Reply to Frederick Giasson Cancel reply