Why is the Semantic Web valuable? What makes it different or special? In the past month, I've heard this question asked of me more than at any time in the past. The source of the questions is from the surprising success of Semantic University. I was humbled at SemTech to be congratulated not by old hands in the community, but by fresh members. One person told me she had opened up 7 lessons in her browser to read on the flight over.
We've received requests for on-site corporate introductions to Semantic Web technologies. There are evidently large numbers of groups across industries that are curious about it and want to explore the tech more deeply to get a handle on its core value. Hidden potential adopters that have been silent because they're having trouble figuring how how, when, and where to apply it. And they don't want to just focus on building ontologies, which is what many other courses focus on; they need to have a deep understanding of why before investing that kind of time. There is a missing link of conversation that starts before ontologies and all that. Material that helps answer: why does this matter?
Which brings me to the point of this post.
As a community, we Semantic Webbers have done a poor job communicating our value clearly and concisely.
Lately I've been trying to put out some more accessible material that tries to explain the value to an audience that isn't intimately familiar with the ins and outs of Semantic Web tech, and I wish there were more people openly trying to do that. We don't lack in technical reading or capability, and we even have some cool public case studies. But we do lack sorely in quick tutorials, quick wins, readable success stories, and cheat sheets that help well-meaning folks figure out where the rubber can meet the road.
I've previously compared our community to the NoSQL community. We have a great many advantages over NoSQL technologies for solving big data challenges, but we do a poor job of showing it.
Want to dip your toes in NoSQL? Go to MongoDB's site and you can have a running app in 15 minutes. I did. It was awesome. I really admire what 10gen has done to make their simple database accessible to newcomers.
Want to dip your toes in Semantic Web? Well then. Where to begin? Most tutorials get you to the point of writing triples and reading triples via some API, or building an ontology using Protege—great tool, intimidating as heck to newcomers. So what? To what end? For what purpose? 10gen's value is obvious: simple scaling via shards if your site grows, and a flexible data model that is just fantastic for rapid prototyping. Those values are technical, but so is the audience to which they are marketing.
So question to the community: in one line, what is it that makes Semantic Web special? What is the one sentence that describes why you would bother to go through the hurdles of learning it vs. some other new technology out there?
As a community, this is our greatest challenge. Even as a business, at Cambridge Semantics we have to make sure that we're clear about our point of view when we talk to prospects. My sentence: you use Semantic Web technologies for any application that will face frequent changing requirements over time. The requirements could be types of data, data sources, view of data, or people consuming the data. If those things aren't held constant, Semantic Web technologies will be quicker to get started with, and cheaper and easier to maintain in the long run.
Shameless plug: if you're interested in hosting a 1/2 day, in-depth introduction to the Semantic Web at your company, please contact Semantic University.