Reflections on SemTech 2009

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SemTech 2009, along with W3C's significant participation in it, is now behind us. Besides catching upon on emails, I have spent the past week reflecting on the enthusiasm, presentations, and flurry of activities that constituted this year's event in San Jose, 14 to 18 June.

One strong feeling I had while in San Jose, was a sense of /deja vu/ in the Web world. Stepping back, I realize that 2009 feels a lot like 1999 when I was consulting with Allaire (remember CFML and ColdFusion?) and attended their user group meetings teaming with enthusiastic Web developers with war stories about their successes and failures bringing Web development servers into organizations of all types and sizes.

Ten years ago, many enterprises were just getting onto the "e-commerce bus," having been either eclipsed or inspired by the likes of innovative Web-centric companies such as and eBay who launched in 1995, or early-adopter retailers like JCPenney whose understanding of the catalogue business put them online faster than many other retailers, or businesses for that matter. Many mainline companies were in various phases of their Web evolution in 1999 -- from brochureware to intranets to pilot customer-facing interactive sites. And keep in mind that ten years ago, Google was barely two.

In 1999 there was also a wide cross-section of skill sets and diversity of understanding about what the Web was, how it worked, and what people and tools to trust to bring one's vision onto the Web. I remember sitting in focus groups with a number of HTML Web designers who were impatient with their more senior corporate IT colleagues who insisted on clear roadmaps, risk assessments and cost-benefit analyses for the Web-based tools and technology solutions their companies were considering.

The Java developers, engineers and system architects in other discussion groups also weren't too keen on the irreverent attitudes and huge amounts of money being thrown at these young people, who just a few years earlier were teenagers playing video games at the arcades. But understanding and trust continued to build, innovation accelerated, communities with technical skills increased, and revenues skyrocketed as a direct result of vendors developing and companies embracing new Web technologies.

We fast forward to 2009 and see similar dynamics with Semantic Web technologies. There are the early adopters and evangelists who have already climbed aboard the "RDF-bus," understand what's possible with W3C's Semantic Web technology standards, and can point to impressive results in new tools, pilot projects and even robust deployments within organizations, governments, and enterprises.

Yet skeptics remain both in terms of understanding the paradigm shift that the Semantic Web brings, just as the early Web challenged the status quo, and in the legitimate need for better tools and long-term architectural considerations for how to successfully deploy Semantic Web technologies in large enterprises.

Like the early Web and the W3C standards and subsequent commercial tools, products and services that enabled its rapid growth, the W3C Semantic Web stack is highly stable today. The accelerating uptake of W3C Semantic Web standards, new tools and applications were part of the buzz at this year's Semantic Technologies Conference.

In addition to hearing and seeing many new use cases and case studies, the call for commercialization was clear, as was the amount of enthusiasm among the technologists doing good and exciting work. The community's call to publish and link data in RDF or RDFa is clearly being heard, with The New York Times joining the ranks of large data holders eager and willing to publish to the Linked Open Data Cloud.

Finally, the number of Semantic Web communities flourishing in cities coast to coast across North America and in Europe, is another healthy sign that the growth and adoption of Semantic Web technologies has not only "crossed the chasm" (in keeping with Geoffrey Moore's model), but has spawned strong beachheads of support among highly skilled technology professionals across business, industry, and government sectors.

It is my hope that at next year's Semantic Technologies Conference -- which is changing venues to San Francisco -- we will point to an even higher coordinate on the adoption curve and see amazing new results and impact from the use of W3C Semantic Web technologies. If I were Jean Luc Picard, I would, "Make it so." But for now, I'll continue in my role of education and outreach for W3C.... Look forward to seeing many of you throughout the year and at next year's conference!

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