I had the pleasure, last week, to be at the 2nd European Semantic Technology Conference in Vienna, Austria. I had a really good week…
The conference was not all that big, cca. 200 participants, 70-75% from industry, plus a small exhibition. It would be all too easy to dismiss the conference due to its size, when compared with SemTech which had more than 1000 participants. But that would really be unfair: first of all, despite the best efforts of the European Commision, Europe is still very much a divided market (one of the feedbacks I heard was to say “Austria is really too small as a market”) which does affect attendance and, as Mark Greaves reminded us at the closing panel, SemTech was also a smaller event a few years ago and it is only lately that it made a huge jump in attendance. Ie, there is room and good prospects for ESTC to grow!
It is always difficult to give a good overview of such a conference; due to the parallel sessions one is bound to miss most of it:-(. Just some highlights from my own perspective.
One interesting aspect the high profile of technologies aiming at extracting structures from unstructured content, typically text. Three out of the four keynotes (Peter Jackson’s from Reuters, Hans Uszkoreit’s from DFKI, and Hugo Zaragoza’s from Yahoo!) were either fully or partially concentrating on this. A number of other presentations also touched upon this as part of developing Semantic Web applications, and there were also hallway conversations on the usage of public services like Open Calais or Zemanta. Although these services have not been developed exclusively for the Semantic Web, they are clearly extremely useful for that applcation area, too. It is also interesting to see that Wikipedia (and, by extension, DBPedia) URI-s begin to play a more an more important role, through these services, as reference URI-s. (I had a blog a while ago which also generated a modest discussion, if you are interested).
Another recurring topic was the “long tail” (shame on me but I must admit I did not know this business term). Orestis Terzidis, from SAP, gave a nice keynote showing, through some SAP case studies, how Semantic Web technologies can be very useful in exploiting the business opportunities in this “long tail” through the flexibility, the possibilities for adaptation and personalization, etc, that they can provide. A good example was the presentation given by Liberté Crozon from Discotheka outlining the plan to exploit SW techniques to build a really good archiving and search services for classical music (as a fan of classical music I know all too well what a fosterchild it is on the music related web sites…).
What else? I had discussions, chats with people from well known tool vendors like Franz Inc, Aduna, or Ontotext; it is always nice to see what they do, what new and cool things they come up with (and they do come up with new things, check out the presentations like the ones of …). The talk on the NeOn project (by Mathieu d’Aquin) was interesting; the NeOn toolkit has the potential in becoming a major player as a tool to develop various ontologies. Not only OWL-DL, but also other dialects of OWL (OWL Full, OWL RL, etc), SKOS, RDFS, and all that in a possibly distributed setting. Cool stuff in the making! Leo Sauermann gave a nice presentation on Semantic Desktops; although there is a SW public Use Case on its already (beyond a bunch of papers), it is always good to have an additional insight. Raphael Volz announced a new tool (still in alpha, though) on managing information on persons for persons. Finally, let me quote here one of the slides of David Norheim (who presented a nice application for Norwegian public schools):
– New standards (e.g. SPARQL), proposals for standardization (e.g. SPARUL), new tools (e.g. Jena), open source (e.g. Tomcat, Apache), lack of good documentation all say high risk!!!!
– However, the support and maintenance from the W3C community and open source developers (e.g. Jena team) has been impressive, the support through IRC channels, mailing lists etc has been invaluable for the project.
I take that as a compliment for the SW community at large!
Finally, on a more private note: there was a time when I had to go to Vienna quite frequently for business reasons but, nevertheless, the city never ceases to amaze me with all the things you can see there. I discovered this lovely passage just across the conference site…
There will be an ESTC2009: the dates are already set (2009-09-30 to 2009-10-02) although the location isn’t. But it is worth adding this to your agenda…