I had the opportunity the other day to converse about the semantic technology business proposition in terms of business development. My interlocutor was a business development consultant who had little prior knowledge of this technology but a background in business development inside a large diversified enterprise.
I will here recap some of the points discussed, since these can be of broader interest.
The field is young. We can take the relational database industry as a historical precedent. From the inception of the relational database around 1970, it took 15 years for the relational model to become mainstream. "Mainstream" here does not mean dominant in installed base, but does mean something that one tends to include as a component in new systems. The figure of 15 years might repeat with RDF, from around 1990 for the first beginnings to 2015 for routine inclusion in new systems, where applicable.
This does not necessarily mean that the RDF graph data model (or more properly, EAV+CR; Entity-Attribute-Value + Classes and Relationships) will take the place of the RDBMS as the preferred data backbone. This could mean that RDF model serialization formats will be supported as data exchange mechanisms, and that systems will integrate data extracted by semantic technology from unstructured sources. Some degree of EAV storage is likely to be common, but on-line transactional data is guaranteed to stay pure relational, as EAV is suboptimal for OLTP. Analytics will see EAV alongside relational especially in applications where in-house data is being combined with large numbers of outside structured sources or with other open sources such as information extracted from the web.
EAV offerings will become integrated by major DBMS vendors, as is already the case with Oracle. Specialized vendors will exist alongside these, just as is the case with relational databases.
Can there be a positive reinforcement cycle (e.g., building cars creates a need for road construction, and better roads drive demand for more cars)? Or is this an up-front infrastructure investment that governments make for some future payoff or because of science-funding policies?
The Document Web did not start as a government infrastructure initiative. The infrastructure was already built, albeit first originating with the US defense establishment. The Internet became ubiquitous through the adoption of the Web. The general public's adoption of the Web was bootstrapped by all major business and media adopting the Web. They did not adopt the web because they particularly liked it, as it was essentially a threat to the position of media and to the market dominance of big players who could afford massive advertising in this same media. Adopting the web became necessary because of the prohibitive opportunity cost of not adopting it.
A similar process may take place with open data. For example, in E-commerce, vendors do not necessarily welcome easy-and-automatic machine-based comparison of their offerings against those of their competitors. Publishing data will however be necessary in order to be listed at all. Also, in social networks, we have the identity portability movement which strives to open the big social network silos. Data exchange via RDF serializations, as already supported in many places, is the natural enabling technology for this.
Will the web of structured data parallel the development of web 2.0?
Web 2.0 was about the blogosphere, exposure of web site service APIs, creation of affiliate programs, and so forth. If the Document Web was like a universal printing press, where anybody could publish at will, Web 2.0 was a newspaper, bringing the democratization of journalism, creating the blogger, the citizen journalist. The Data Web will create the Citizen Analyst, the Mini Media Mogul (e.g., social-network-driven coops comprised of citizen journalists, analysts, and other content providers such as video and audio producers and publishers). As the blogosphere became an alternative news source to the big media, the web of data may create an ecosystem of alternative data products. Analytics is no longer a government or big business only proposition.
Is there a specifically semantic market or business model, or will semantic technology be exploited under established business models and merged as a component technology into existing offerings?
We have seen a migration from capital expenses to operating expenses in the IT sector in general, as exemplified by cloud computing's Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). It is reasonable to anticipate that this trend will continue to Data as a Service (DaaS). Microsoft Odata and Dallas are early examples of this and go towards legitimizing the data as service concept. DaaS is not related to semantic technology per se, but since this will involve integration of data, RDF serializations will be attractive, especially given the takeoff of linked data in general. The data models in Odata are also much like RDF, as both stem from EAV+CR, which makes for easy translation and a degree of inherent interoperability.
The integration of semantic technology into existing web properties and business applications will manifest to the end user as increased serendipity. The systems will be able to provide more relevant and better contextualized data for the user's situation. This applies equally to the consumer and business user cases.
Identity virtualization in the forms of WebID and Webfinger — making first-class de-referenceable identifiers of mailto: and acct: schemes — is emerging as a new way to open social network and Web 2.0 data silos.
On the software production side, especially as concerns data integration, the increased schema- and inference-flexibility of EAV will lead to a quicker time to answer in many situations. The more complex the task or the more diverse the data, the higher the potential payoff. Data in cyberspace is mirroring the complexity and diversity of the real world, where heterogeneity and disparity are simply facts of life, and such flexibility is becoming an inescapable necessity.