Extending the Semantic Web (from Crete, with love)

Originally appeared on Nodalities Blog: http://blogs.talis.com/nodalities

This is my first year attending the ESWC (formerly “European Semantic Web Conference” now the “Extended Semantic Web Conference,” cleverly, the acronym still works) near Heraklion on Crete. It’s only a couple days in, but I thought it’d be a good time to report back to the Nodalities readers. ESWC is a gathering of some of the world’s most influential Semantic Web thinkers, and for me It’s been a few days of meeting people in the flesh with whom I’ve been in touch online for years. As one bloke put it: “What’s kept you away?”

Well, I’m extremely glad I’ve not been kept away this year, and have been excited to see what’s been built recently. ESWC is a very academic conference; indeed I’m quietly auditing the PhD Symposium as I type this. There are papers, PhD symposia, demos and expositions on topics covering anything from ontology development to MapReduce processing of RDF triples. It seems a very fertile seedbed, with many of these ideas having the potential of growing into projects, startups, papers and possibly industries.

I’ve made a subtle and largely subconscious transition by blogging mostly about projects that are up and running. This has been important because the Semantic Web world is no longer one of “someday,” but a world of current and continuous activity. So, I’ve talked about visualisations of data, products running on Linked Data, data.gov.uk et.al.; and I’ve held back on discussing purely possible. It’s been exciting and uplifting to see the conceptual evolve to the proven and working. But this is a reflection of progress—of moving from hypothesis to implementation. It doesn’t mean the concepts have stopped flowing. It’d be a very short story in the history of human communication if the Semantic Web has used up all of its possibilities in ten years!

ESWC is a little microcosm of the wider research going on in Linked Data and related fields. It seems to me that Big Ideas need the traditional frameworks of academic investigation. Questions need to be asked and answered and debated and tried and broken and rebuilt. Much of this science will not become technology, and this is wholly acceptable because it gives the Big Ideas a lot of scope to be refined.

ESWC is just such a place. PhD students and researchers fill the schedule with proposals and reports, and many possibilities are being constantly debated around coffee, beer, and the beach. It’s been a thoroughly fascinating few days, and I’m very much looking forward to more over the next few.

As a quick note, Talis sponsored the Scripting for the Semantic Web challenge for this, its final year. Alexandre Passant and Pablo Mendes won the prize with SPARQLpush.

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