From the Semantic Technology & Business Conference

October 2-3 2013, New York City

Ashley Kelleher, Pratt Institute, NY
M.S. Information & Library Science Candidate 2014
M.S. History of Art & Design Candidate 2014

This October's Semantic Technology & Business Conference was a privilege to attend on behalf of Information Architecture Institute. As a current student I was grateful for the opportunity to come up-to-speed on current industry applications of semantic technologies. This year's Conference marked the second anniversary of the "East Coast Edition" of Semantic Technology & Business in New York, and anticipates the tenth anniversary of the annual conference in San Jose, CA, upcoming for June 2-5th 2014. The Conference was presented by and Mediabistro, with sponsors Mphasis by HP and Bigdata by Systap.

Highlights over the two days addressed the industry's expanding understandings of differing sectors' needs regarding semantic applications. Also thoroughly discussed was exactly what constitutes good practice, and more successful models, in moving a company toward the adoption of semantics into their workflows. A seeming marriage of classical ontological and taxonomic approaches was given by Dave
McComb of Semantic Arts Inc., while Jans Aasman of Franz Inc.'s demonstrated a new version of Gruff, a Grapher-based RDF browsing software developed by the company.

Day 1 welcomed an opening keynote by Ms. Krasnow Waterman, CEO of LawTechIntersect, LLC/MIT, who grounded the conference in illustrating how applied semantics has begun to revolutionize the analysis of data for sectors ranging from journalism to pre-competitive research and forensic investigation. Also highlighted was a promising initiative from MIT, aimed at introducing embedded license copy-and-paste options for everyday user copying of online images. "The NYC Tech sector is booming," said Waterman, describing the technology sector as "the #2 industry in the city after finance."

A success story of semantic applications in the healthcare sector was presented by Michael Delaney and David S. Read of Blue Slate Solutions (Albany, NY). In their case study, a great amount of time and resources were being used in one company's nurses screening documentation for all incoming insurance claims. All documents were being screened by the nurses without a pre-filtering process to identify the higher probabilities of approval for correctly filled out forms. With a semantically enabled filtering system installed, nurses were not only relieved of a large approval workload, but for the first time were able to provide unsuccessful applicants with real reasons as to why their applications were not initially successful, with greater recording abilities of the nurse's decisions able to be shared through use of the technology. The company was able to recover financially and even engage a more user-oriented approach in the new ability for increased communication with applicants.

Eric Freese shared current progress on KEEreader, an exciting initiative toward the application of semantics and linked data to the eBook. Freese described his project as aimed toward improving the ease of research in academic settings, and in the specific experience of reading for students of all levels. "Ebooks should be state of the art," said Freese in describing the wide-open state of technological possibility faced by the eReading industry. Further detailed were the benefits of semantic adoption to the publishing sector in his describing how "...publishers should be able to run analytics on their sales". Mr. Freese was also kind enough to provide Conference attendees with a complimentary invitation to annotate one of KEEreaders' first linked data books, compiled from works of the Conference's many presenters.

An interesting survey of the life of big data came from the namesake company's presentation of projected next steps. Presenter Mike Personik of SYSTAP, LLC described how "Bigdata" chose their company name 3-4 years before the term itself was coined elsewhere Ð Bigdata the company, however, decided not to change its name. Tracing the trajectories of big data from its origins of use in intelligence, Mr. Personik addressed semantics application as a crucial next step for data corporations, saying "...the solution to big data problems isn't more data" Ð semantics, he insisted, is a solution.

More inter-sector success stories came from Conference Exhibitor, Design for Context, in their applications of user tagging and annotation to structured content in the cultural sector, presented by Duane Degler and Thomas Van Der Wal. With clients including some of the city's major museum and cultural institutions, I found their semantic applications in consideration of this industry especially intriguing, and was very grateful for their sharing a preview of upcoming professional workflow projects for the field's professionals with me.

Design for Context's work for the cultural sector also coupled interestingly with Presenter Kurt Cagle's past work in IA for the film production industry: an emergent theme apparent in this year's Conference was certainly the continual branching of semantic technologies across interdisciplinary industries.

A number of the Presentations further resonated with testament that the most successful implementation of semantics in businesses were accomplished by the ability to work closely with an internal "champion" Ð a person within the client company who exhibits enthusiasm over the promise of semantic technologies and can inspire the same in their coworkers. Mr. Cagle acutely commented in the Closing Keynote Panel that one of the most convincing aspects to present to clients was to mix this approach with an up-front provision of "proof-of-concept". Regarding the practice of spreading ideas on what semantic technologies can actually do and what their implementation actually looks like, consensus was reached in Panel Discussions that this approach greatly helps to alleviate any idea of semantics as "a cool solution with no problems to solve."

The slow but steady pace of semantic adaption across industries continues for a number of reasons, including but certainly not limited to complications of data federation, visual representations of data, and encouraging a dynamic growth environment for consensually agreed metadata standards within a company or sector. At the same time, Conference sponsor Mphasis, a global service provider company by HP, claims that the "semantic revolution" is underway. In his closing remarks, Mr. Cagle reflected that people in business settings change their minds to adapt Semantic Technologies on a limited number of clauses, being 1) a presence of authority telling them so, and ultimately, 2) a provision of exemplary or social proof to endorse the product, and especially for areas where there exists concern for risk.

Semantic technologies have evidently come a long way since their emergence as an intelligence-serving toolkit. The field demonstrates maturing standards and practices, as pointed out by Freebase Presenter Paul Houle. Mr. Houle described the model of adaption that occurred with the spread of relational database technology, wherein initial ideas of capability long preceded the technologically capable reality. In comparison with last year's first NY-based Conference, it seemed this year that few presenters sought to first define "semantics" as a gateway into respective presentations - a positive note on the industry's appearing to agree on more.

Ultimately, businesses that have already adapted semantic technologies are gaining a "first mover" advantage and largely outstripping competition. Semantic technologies have a great potential to reinvent more business models, and are continuing to move into public periphery with a focus on helping sectors across all disciplines make the most of what technology can offer to our humanized workflows.

In dropping in delightful snippets of the veritable legacy of semantics in his presentation on Freebase, Mr. Houle helped to reminded us of just how much we have to go on in 2013 in referring to the long labors of the library sector to accomplish semantic models:

"MARC records Ð digitizing tags since 1969!"


My thanks to the Information Architecture Institute for enabling my participation in the Semantic Technology and Business Conference this year. It was a pleasure! With special thanks to Noreen Whysel for corresponding with me and arranging my attendance.

Semantic Technology and Business NYC 2013

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