Peeling Back the Semantic Web Onion

Written for Unlimited Priorities and DCLnews Blog.

An Interview with Intellidimension’s Chris Pooley & Geoff Chappell

Chris Pooley is the CEO and co-founder of Intellidimension. His role is to lead its corporate development and business development efforts. Previously, Chris was Vice-President of Business Development at Thomson Scientific and Healthcare where he was responsible for acquisitions and strategic partnerships.

Richard Oppenheim

Richard Oppenheim

As stated in the first article, “the Semantic Web is growing and coming to a neighborhood near you.” (Read Richard Oppenheim’s first article here) Since that article, I had a conversation with Chris Pooley, CEO and co-founder of Intellidimension. Chris understands how the web and the Semantic Web work today. So let’s peel back some of the layers surrounding the semantic web onion and bring the hype down to earth.

Chris has spent years working with and developing applications specifically for the semantic web. Along with Geoff Chappell, Intellidimension president, our conversation ranged around the semantics of the Semantic Web and, more importantly, the impact it will have for access to information resources.

The vision of the founding fathers of the World Wide Web Consortium was for information to be accessible easily and in large volume with a process enabling the same information to be used for infinite purposes. For example, a weather forecast may determine whether your family picnic will be in sunshine or needs to be rescheduled. For the farmer the weather forecast is a key to what needs to be done for the planting and harvesting of crops. The retail store owner decides whether to have a special promotion for umbrellas or sunscreen lotion. The same information is used for different questions and actions.

Data publishers of all sizes and categories have information available. These publishers range from newspapers to retail stores to photo albums to travel sites, and a lot more; get the breaking news story, buy a book, connect with family albums, or book a flight. The web provides access to these benefits in endless combinations. The sites are holders of large volumes of data waiting for you to ask a question, or search. The applications are designed for human consumption so that people can find things when they choose to look.

The Semantic Web is a modified information agent in that there are one or more underlying software applications designed to aggregate information and create a unique pipeline of data for each specific user.

The foundation of the Semantic Web is all about relationships between any two items…

One of the key attributes of the web is that we can link any number of individual pages together. You can be on one page and click to go to another page of your choice. You can send an email that has an embedded link to allow the reader one click access to a specific page.

Chris emphasizes that the Semantic Web is not about links between web pages. “The foundation of the Semantic Web is all about relationships between any two items,” says Chris. Tuesday’s weather has a relationship to a 2pm Frontier flight leaving from Denver. Mary’s booking on that flight means that her ticket and seat assignment also has a relationship. In the semantic web sense, there is a relationship between Tuesday’s weather and Mary.

The growth of the Semantic Web will expand the properties of things to include lots of elements, such as price, age, meals, destination, and so on. The language for describing this information and associated resources on the web is the Resource Description Framework (RDF). Putting information into RDF files, makes it possible for computer programs (“web spiders”) to search, discover, pick up, collect, analyze and process information from the web. The Semantic Web uses RDF to describe web resources.

For end users, the continued adoption of the Semantic Web technologies will mean that when they search for product comparisons they will find more features in the comparisons which should make the process easier, faster, and provide better results.

Whether you seek guidance from the Guru on the mountain top or the Oracle at Delphi, information will range from numbers to statistical charts, from words to books, from images to photo albums, from medication risks to medical procedure analysis to doctor ratings.

Chris Pooley states, “For end users, the continued adoption of the Semantic Web technologies will mean that when they search for product comparisons they will find more features in the comparisons which should make the process easier, faster, and provide better results. For a business user or enterprise the benefits will be huge. By building Semantic Web enabled content, businesses will be able to leverage their former content silos; and the cost of making changes or adding new data elements (maintaining their content) will be reduced while flexibility will be improved, by using the rules-based approach for Semantic Web projects.”

With this vast increase in data volume, users should remember to be certain they trust the data that is retrieved. As part of the guidelines for proper use of the semantic web, we need to establish base levels of reliability for the sources being accessed. This requires some learning and practice to determine what maps appropriately to the level of accuracy needed. The weather forecast can be off a few degrees. Sending a space vehicle to Mars requires far greater accuracy since being off even one degree will cause the vehicle to miss its intended target.

Both end users and enterprise users will learn new ways to pay attention to the data validity. Trusting the source may require a series of steps that includes tracking the information over an extended time period. This learning process will also include a clear explanation of why that information is out there. For example, a company’s historical financial information is not the same as the company’s two year marketing forecast.

There is a chicken and egg aspect to approaching growing accessibility to more data. More data means more opportunity to collect valuable information. It also means that more care needs to be exercised to identify and separate meaningful relevant data from data noise. For example, the retailer Best Buy has started down this path by collecting 60% more bits of information from user clicks on their web site. This enriched data delivers added value to the retailer for more accurate and timely business decisions about products and selling techniques.

One of the intoxicating things about the web is that the vast majority of data, entertainment and resources are all free to anyone with an internet connection. While Chris acknowledges the current state of free resources, he also anticipates that in the future, there will likely be a need for some fee structure for the aggregator of content. With data demand growing exponentially, there will be a corresponding demand for huge increases in both storage capacity and internet bandwidth. The Semantic Web will require more big data mines and faster communications.

There is a significant difference between infrastructure and the applications that ride on that structure. Bridges are constructed to enable cars to use the span to get from one side to the other. The infrastructure of the bridge demands it holds all of the bridge weight as the weight of all cars at any one moment is insignificant to the bridge’s total weight.

Chris Pooley’s company, Intellidimension, builds infrastructure products delivering a useful and usable bridge for enterprise users. These users then create aggregating and solution oriented applications that travel along the appropriately named information super highway. Chris says, “The evolving Semantic Web technologies will offer benefits for the information producer and the information user that will enrich and enlarge what we see and how we see it.”

About the Author

Richard Oppenheim, CPA, blends business, technology and writing competence with a passion to help individuals and businesses get unstuck from the obstacles preventing their moving ahead. He is a member of the Unlimited Priorities team. Contact him by e-mail or follow him on Twitter at

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