Ivan’s private site

May 11, 2007

WWW2007 Conference (part of 2nd day)

Filed under: Semantic Web,Work Related — Ivan Herman @ 15:20

I already blogged on part of the 2nd day of the conference yesterday, so I won’t repeat that…

I was quite pleased by how the the Semantic Web session of the W3C Track turned out. The room was packed full, which is a good sign. RIF was presented by Sandro; this was the first time for a more public overview on what is going there and Sandro did a great job at that. Rules are becoming integral part of the Semantic Web technology landscape, I think the publication of the RIF Core will really be an important step. It is still a first draft, but more can be expected later this year. I remember joking with Chris Welty last December on that 2006 may have been “the year of SPARQL” and 2007 may become “the year of Rules”. Well, maybe not 2007 but only 2008, but nevertheless…

Harry Halpin and Fabien Gandon also did a great job on GRDDL and RDFa. Faben ran a bunch of demos on his machine, meshing up different data sources using microformats, eRDF, or RDFa, all meshed up with GRDDL and displayed in the browser via Javascript. Great stuff. Quite a lot of questions from potential users (I had to cut the discussion to move to the next presentation:-)

Susie Stephens and Alan Ruttenberg gave a demo on how Semantic Web technologies can be used in Health Care and Life Sciences. Susie gave a brief introduction, followed by Alan for the demo part. (The presentation was based on the work of the whole HCLS IG.) It was impressive. This was not just a toy demo: these HCLS IG guys integrated a whole range of public databases (Susie has a slide on which ones) concentrating on Alzheimer disease information, and Alan showed how this integrated data can be queried by various types of SPARQL queries, being able to ask questions with responses in few seconds, whereas finding the same answers via traditional means would have taken hours if not days. The data set contains around 350M triplets, stored on a commodity hardware at MIT, with a query response time of a few seconds. (More about the demo can be found on the IG’s wiki page.) There weren’t really questions, only Giovanni Tummarello stood up and said “thank you”. I had the impression that he expressed the reaction of most of the people in the audience; certainly mine.

By the way, the demo highlighted one more thing: the remarks whereby the Semantic Web tools are slow become really outdated. Of course, improvement are always welcome, but getting a SPARQL query response on 350M triplets in a few seconds is a very respectable time and, as we know, these are by far not the top scores, we are hearing about triple stores storing several billions of triplets, significant improvements on reasoner responses, etc. Lacking speed of SW tools gradually become urban legends…

In some ways, this leads to the afternoon session I went to, namely the panel on Multimedia Semantics. The panel was a little bit hijacked by a slightly provocative remark by Mor Naaman (Yahoo! Research) who declared the Semantic Web dead. It was the usual Web 2.0 argumentation, referring to (in this case) Flickr tagging, including Flickr’s machine tags, as a superior way of using semantics and making all Semantic Web approaches obsolete. Although I have the impression that Mor did not mean this 100%, and was putting this on his slide for the sake of generating discussions. He did a good job at that, because some of us took the bait… I talked about a remark from Giles Day at a conference earlier this year on the importance of ontologies within Pfizer instead of tagging (I blogged about this back in March). I think we agreed that tagging à la Flickr and more closely Semantic Webby tools can happily live side by side, depending on the application at hand (sometimes tagging is the o.k. answer…). And, in fact, tagging, mainly machine tagging, is really not that different from Semantic Web tools; machine tags are RDF triplets in disguise, it is just very unfashionable these days in certain communities to call this RDF. Actually, Dave Beckett also came up to the microphone, referring to his Flickrurl library that can be used to export Flickr tags to RDF, and that it was a very easy thing to implement… We also agreed with Mor that the image of Semantic Web, or RDF in particular, is still misleading out there and people still have the think of it as something too complex. Sigh, we still have a long way to go in changing this image and turn this into an urban legend, too…

It was a good day again.


1 Comment

  1. Glad you got the spirit of things right, Ivan — this is a great summary. Of course, thanks for your insightful comments during the panel.

    Comment by Mor — May 12, 2007 @ 8:07

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