Today sees the publication of a new report by Boston-based David Provost. On the cusp: a global review of the Semantic Web industry (PDF) features David's analysis of the space, informed by detailed conversations with representatives from many of its leading companies, and the picture he paints is an optimistic one.
From the Executive Summary,
"The Semantic Web is proving itself as a commercially competitive technology.
With every passing day, the vendors profiled in this report gather more evidence that drives this point home. For several years the Semantic Web has been portrayed as full of promise, yet real-world evidence articulated in plain, non-technical language has been in short supply.
At the most basic level, both early stage companies and seasoned, global companies are investing in the Semantic Web because of the clear role they see for the technology in the achievement of their overarching strategic objectives.
Intriguing possibilities are emerging, such as the role of 'linked data', Social Network Analysis and how the Semantic Web may aid this practice, and how the convergence of Natural Language Processing, Semantically enabled search, and the traditional publishing industry will play out. Time will tell, but the potential effects could be substantial."
These views mirror those of other experts, such as the group assembled in Vienna last week. We are seeing repeated and sustainable shifts beyond academic discourse and experimentation toward sound strategic investments in Semantic Web capabilities that meet individual, organisational and federated needs moving forward.
When asked why he undertook the study in the first place, David responded;
"The Semantic Web is a difficult concept for non-technical people to grasp, and I wanted to write a plain-language report discussing the industry vendors, their products, and how these products are being used, as well as the business cases underlying highly visible, publicly accessible deployments like Calais, Twine, and Searchmonkey."
The bulk of the report is given over to usefully normalised profiles of seventeen companies active in the Semantic Technology space today; seventeen is a small sample of the whole, but appears pretty representative of the most prevalent market segments (four identified as offering some form of Middleware; six offer one form of 'platform' or another; five are concerned with Natural Language Processing (NLP); four with database solutions; four are tackling ontologies; three profess significant search capability; two deliver consumer applications; and three host developer-friendly web services). Although superficially apparent from the breakdown above, a little more digging was required to see where each lay in relation to the current market split between semantics companies and Semantic Web companies; a split that Jim Hendler describes better than I. I am increasingly of the opinion that it is those companies that fully and unreservedly embrace the Web that will see the most profound transformative benefits. Without being truly 'of the Web,' the application of semantic technologies remains useful... but leads to merely incremental benefits.
The seventeen are;
- Calais [listen to my podcast with Clearforest CEO Barak Pridor]
- Cambridge Semantics [listen to my podcast with President and CTO Sean Martin]
- Dow Jones Client Solutions/ Synaptica [listen to my podcast with Global Director of Semantic Technology Solutions, Christine Connors] (Synaptica URL corrected, 1/10/2008)
- Expert System [my podcast with Brooke Aker has been rescheduled, and should take place tomorrow...]
- OpenLink Software [listen to my podcast with President and CEO Kingsley Idehen]
- Primal Fusion
- Sindice [listen to my colleague Danny Ayers' podcast with Richard Cyganiak]
- TopQuadrant [listen to my podcast with Chief Scientist Dean Allemang]
- Twine [listen to my podcast with Founder and CEO Nova Spivack]
- Yahoo! SearchMonkey [listen to my podcast with Peter Mika]
Ten of the featured companies are North American, six European, and one South Korean.
As the report notes;
"Importantly, some companies are beginning to focus on specific uses of Semantic technology to create solutions in areas like knowledge management, risk management, content management, and more. This is a key development in the Semantic Web industry because until fairly recently, most vendors simply sold development tools. In turn, customer organizations would use these tools to create solutions that suited their own internal needs. Obviously, this strategy limits the addressable market to those customers that have the knowledge, time, money, and motivation to invest in such a bottom-up approach.
By emphasizing solutions, vendors can more sharply focus their development and sales efforts."
"Semantic Web technology and solutions based on this technology are competitive with 'traditional' Information Technology."
"The Semantic Web industry is alive, well, and it’s increasingly competitive as a commercial technology. At this point, there are too many success stories and too much money being invested to dismiss the technology as non-viable. The Semantic Web is presently building a track record, which means the big wins and unanticipated uses are yet to come. In the meantime, adoption is occurring, and the early news is very good indeed."
And put on the spot to briefly outline his take-home from the report, David concluded;
"The business value of the Semantic Web has moved away from being a debate to the point where the technology is proving itself to be commercially competitive. Increasingly, innovators, entrepreneurs, and business managers are beginning to understand how to recognize, define, and pursue the market opportunities made possible by this technology."
David's report offers a useful snapshot across part of a nascent industry, and often provides more insight into the featured companies than can be gleaned by reading and re-reading their frequently opaque web sites. It would be interesting to see this effort extended to cover more companies (perhaps a job with which the Semantic Exchange could engage?), as well as some scope for greater critique where necessary.