Only the arrogant and presumptuous would take herself totally seriously when invited to speak to any group of technology experts, entrepreneurs with a healthy sprinkling of cognitive scientist in the mix. So, finding myself kicking off the second day of IKS-Community workshop in Paris, I was well aware of the audience and the challenge to offer appropriate and practical guidance about the marketplace for their ideas, developed and seminal.
First, the most interesting aspect of semantic technologists is that their work must be crafted in languages almost no non-computer scientist would understand while trying to present to other workers and consumers an easily used linguistic experience. To be successful, any application must not intrude into the workflow or intent of the user. Because semantic applications are, to date, focused primarily on textual language, the interface, operations and outputs require fluency (no matter what the language) between the application and the users.
Semantic Technology Issues May Be Philosophical but not Religious. My enjoyment comes in trying to interpret the inevitable dissonance between developer and the target audience and the tension required to resolve differences in ways to communicate. There is a sharp contrast between the language a computer scientist must use to “talk” to the computer, and the language and thinking process that the application user wants to and will use to make the computer perform a semantic operation. There is also a philosophical aspect when I contemplate all that goes into building a semantic application vs. the mental and linguistic processes that go into using it.
Second, it was great to be exposed to some very interesting demonstrations and I look forward to reflecting on and keeping track of what I saw. This community is a vital one with lots of energy, and they will need it to penetrate the landscape of competitors, potential partners, and early adopters. I was particularly interested in SalsaDev and Pool/Party, but that is just my personal bias and affinity with enterprise semantic tools that focus on vocabulary management issues and auto-categorization.
Readers from outside IKS should take full advantage of the very rich workshop content with links to presentations, demo sites, and related content. All the keynotes were stimulating and themes quite diverse.
Since the meeting, I have two more thoughts to share with the community. The first relates to early adopters and my comment about the energy required for an entrepreneur. Every time I meet talented professionals who are excited to launch a business and want me to join the team, I reflect on the intensity of my own journey, founding and nurturing a small software company. Periodically, an old prospect experience comes to mind that makes me realize how much personal learning went into my venture. The ratio of prospects to sales was large but with every loss was a new message. It has only come to me now how much was invested in early adopters, those that actually became customers were, at times, the wrong ones.
In fact, early adopters are truly business partners and they have just as much invested as the entrepreneur. It is easy to be taken by the enthusiasm of an early adopter, without being critically aware of the path they may take you on – a path that may not be sensible from a business perspective. I could have made a whole talk on some overreaching early adopters that took me for a ride; these were interesting journeys during which we partnered and developed close bonds, but this was not necessarily right for the business.
My second thought follows on some guidance summarized on slides 11 (where there is early growth in semantic technologies in vertical markets) and 17 (which illustrates the diversity of types of companies working semantic technologies into their product and service offerings). A specific area that I did not mention is the entire field of medical records management and the potential for contributing tools to further the practice of evidence-based-medicine. For the open source, semantic CMS community your entrée would be into institutions that have constrained budgets (hospital and healthcare networks, government and academic institutions). The availability of the richly built out UMLS vocabulary makes the linguistic hurdle a bit more manageable, although never easy. With pressures to control costs across all medical areas, especially intense in the U. S., the right partners and early adopters could afford many possible application opportunities for IKS members.
Thank you for your warm welcome to the community and I’ll look for more communiques from the EU field operations.