Yesterday, I had the privilege of moderating a panel session at the Online News Association's 2009 Conference in San Francisco on the use of semantic web technologies for publishers entitled "Can the Semantic Web Really Save your Site?" Our 3 guests included two CTOs for major online news organizations and a semantic web author and technology expert. I was really looking forward to this and was not let down at the caliber of knowledge these guys brought to the table (literally).
While I and the audience asked them many questions, the main themes revolved around an attempt to boil down to a discussion of "...How do you use semantic web technologies? Give us some real-world examples?..."
I think the panelists hit the mark for me, but unfortunately due the complexity and loaded nature of what semantic technologies even means, we probably lost some people along the way. Many people who attended were editors or journalists looking for something less technical. My apologies if that was the case. I will commit to follow up this post with a list of promised resources for where to get acquainted at the intro level to these concepts so next year you can jump right in with the panel and hear what I heard.
Peter Offringais the VP of Engineering for the News and Technology business unit of CBS Interactive. Peter leads all software development efforts for the highly-trafficked sites of Download.com, News.com, CBSNews.com, CNET Reviews, Shopper.com and CNET TV. A job that no doubt keeps him busy. He came just for this panel. I was honored to get to meet him and hear how his team makes this stuff useful. It was clear to me that Peter's team is very aware of the opportunities of semantic web to enhance content in both the consumer and news sides of their business. They use a myriad of different tools and tactics in concert with each other. I was interested to learn that they use opencalais and other semantic metadata enhancement technologies to make things like product and technology reviews more searchable, relevant, and useful to consumers in side by side comparisons. I was inspired to see some great use cases for using RDF to structure content like this and to use RDFa to provide semantic mark up.
Kurt Cagle, the Senior Editor of MetaphoricalWeb.org and the Managing Editor of XMLToday provided us with a technologist's view of the semantic web - what it means, where it came from and where it is going. Kurt is an insightful guy. Guys like Kurt are shouldering the burden of explaining this stuff to all of us and helping us understand the potential, but we shouldn't expect that to come easily. Kurt is currently working on a book on Open Data for O’Reilly Media, something I did not get the chance to discuss with him and really wish I had. I could have spent days absorbing his knowledge about how all of this works. Kurt takes a holistic view to explain that semantics boils down to assertions made on and against data on the web. But when Kurt says "I have been reading, writing and researching about RDF and XML for well over a decade and I still dont grasp all of the potential" that has very humbling implications for the rest of us.
Paul Berry, the CTO of The Huffington Post clearly has a stake in staying ahead of these technologies. He talked about how HuffPo is using a variety of semantic tools to improve and enhance metadata, taxonomy, markup and relevancy of their content. I suspect that their use of these tools is one of their recipes for great SEO. I loved his advice about SEO roughly paraphrased as "...if you find yourself trying to trick Google or using that word trick at all, stop. You are the going at this the wrong way..." HuffPo also uses opencalais and some home grown tools to auto tag and infuse their content with powerful metadata.
So as I said before, while I think the more technical members of the audience were able to get some important insights from this panel, I am going to start a list of some resources for the rest of that audience and others like them to get up to speed on semantic web concepts which I will append to this post when it is decent enough to share.
In the meantime, I very much invite comments and suggestions for resources to add to this list or you can email me directly @ jwalpole [at] phase2technology.com. Lets get others into this conversation.