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Reflections on SemTech 2009

The Semantic Technology Conference is the premier semantic technologies event held every year in June in San Jose CA. SemTech is the place where the industry comes together for four days of tutorials, workshops and talks on the future of the Web, marketing, search and discovery. The event is run by Wilshire Conferences which has a reputation of running some of the best conferences in the industry related to the trends in data management and associated technologies. Another Wilshire conference to look for each year is Enterprise Data World.

In summary, this year’s conference was a big success. Why? First, conference attendance grew in a year where the economy has caused many conferences to falter. In addition, while in years past an undercurrent of questions about whether semantic technologies were “ready for primetime” seemed to linger, this year was different. This year the lingering questions were less about “if” and more about “how”. There to answer such questions and announce major investments in the space were the three major search engine companies: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft.

The expo held more booths this year and there was a constant flow of people wanting to find out more about the tools available to support implementation of semantic technologies. There were even tools that allow the average non-technical user to participate in the Semantic Web such as Zepheira’s Freemix and Cambridge Semantics Anzo.

Open data was a recurring theme. More and more organizations are making their data open and available, encouraging its linkage to other data sets. An announcement by the New York Times about the NYT Annotated Corpus and the NYT Index being released to the “Linked Data Cloud” generated a great deal of buzz in this regard.

Finally, the upward trend in practical use cases continued. One example was Chime Ogbuji’s talk about his work at Cleveland Clinic to create a clinical informatics framework improve the Clinic’s ability to use patient data for generating new knowledge and improve future patient care. Another example was the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) discussion on their launch of an ontology and associated services to manage, exchange and integrate geopolitical information at corporate level and with international partners.

There’s still a long way to go to provide friendly ways for the average user to participate and to help organizations understand the benefits and where and how these technologies should be used. From the momentum gained over the course of the past year, it’s a good bet that we will see a lot more on this front at next year’s conference.

Dates for next year’s conference have been posted.

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