Others are beginning to apply semantic techniques to consumer-focused businesses, varying widely in how deeply they draw from the Semantic Web’s well.
The Los Altos, CA-based website RealTravel, created by chief executive Ken Leeder, AdForce founder Michael Tanne, and Semantic Web researcher Tom Gruber, offers an early example of what it will look like to mix Web 2.0 features like tagging and blogging with a semantic data-organization system. The U.K.-based Garlik, headed by former top executives of the British online bank Egg, uses an RDF-based database as part of a privacy service that keeps customers apprised of how much of their personal information is appearing online. “We think Garlik’s technology gives them a really interesting technology advantage, but this is at a very early stage,” says 3i’s Waterhouse, whose venture firm helped fund Garlik. “Semantic technology is going to be a slow burn.”
San Francisco-based Radar Networks, created by EarthWeb cofounder Nova Spivack and funded in part by Allen’s Vulcan Capital, plans eventually to release a full development platform for commercial Semantic Web applications, and will begin to release collaboration and information-sharing tools based on the techniques this year. Spivack himself has been part of the Semantic Web community for years, most recently working with DARPA and SRI International on a long-term project called CALO (Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes), which aims to help military analysts filter and analyze new data.
Radar Networks’ tools will be based on familiar ideas such as sharing bookmarks, notes, and documents, but Spivack says that ordering and linking this data within the basic Semantic Web framework will help teams analyze their work more efficiently. He predicts that the mainstream Web will spend years assimilating these basic organization processes, using RDF and related tools, while the Semantic Web’s more ambitious artificial-intelligence applications wait in the wings.
“First comes what I call the World Wide Database, making data accessible through queries, with no AI involved,” Spivack says. “Step two is the intelligent Web, enabling software to process information more intelligently. That’s what we’re working on.”
One of the highest-profile deployments of Semantic Web technology is courtesy of Joost, the closely watched Internet television startup formed by the creators of Skype and Kazaa. The company has moved extraordinarily quickly from last year’s original conception, through software development and Byzantine negotiations with video content owners, into beta-testing of its customizable peer-to-peer TV software.
That would have been impossible if not for the Semantic Web’s RDF techniques, which Joost chief technology officer Dirk-Willem van Gulik calls “XML on steroids.” RDF allowed developers to write software without worrying about widely varying content-use restrictions or national regulations, all of which could be accommodated afterwards using RDF’s Semantic Web linkages.
Joost’s RDF infrastructure also means that users will have wide-ranging control over the service, van Gulik adds. People will be able to program their own virtual TV networks–if an advertiser wants its own “channel,” say, or an environmental group wants to bring topical content to its members–by using the powerful search and filtering capacity inherent in the semantic ordering of data.
But van Gulik’s admiration goes only so far. While he believes that the simpler elements of the Semantic Web will be essential to a huge range of online businesses, the rest he can do without. “RDF [and the other rudimentary semantic technologies] solve meaningful problems, and it costs less than any other approach would,” he says. “The entire remainder”–the more ambitious work with ontologies and artificial intelligence–“is completely academic.”