Is 2011 <i>The</i> Year for Semantic Technology?

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Consider the following facts:

  • 79 percent of American adults use the Internet, according to a May 2010 survey.
  • 38 percent of Internet users log onto an online networking site like Facebook or LinkedIn each day.
  • 8 percent of Americans on the Internet use Twitter.
  • 28 percent of Internet users look for information online each day about a service or product they are thinking of buying. (Stats from the Pew Research Center.)

It’s crucial for institutions of all kinds to have a pulse on the public’s opinion regarding relevant issues, products and ideas. Still, modern technology has made the extraction and utilization of this information and related opinions more difficult than ever. From chat rooms to Twitter, Facebook and blogs, there is an ever-growing amount content from which many of us are trying to separate the useful insight from the weeds. The advent of chief listening officers in the corporate world only reinforces the desire to keep tabs on customer dialogue and sentiment in an effort to protect brand reputation and keep customers happy.

Is Facebook Driving Adoption?

Currently, most companies don’t have the time to invest in analyzing the mass of social information on the Web. This is where semantic technology comes into play. At its most basic level, semantic technology is able to understand the meanings of words expressed in their proper context no matter the number (singular or plural), gender, verb tense or mode (indicative or imperative). But this is just the starting point. Semantic technology incorporates morphological, logical, grammatical and natural language analysis that translates into higher precision and recall when searching for information, delivering all of the most important and accurate data to the user.

Semantic technology allows enterprises to monitor and assess information contained in Web-based conversations and unstructured information so that companies can get the lay of the land when it comes to overall sentiment. And while the enterprise is gradually adopting semantic technologies, the consumer realm has a mind of its own.

Decisions by major companies, particularly those like Facebook, to acquire semantic technology companies seem to point to a move toward more widespread semantic technology adoption. Facebook is a kind of parallel Web universe, with its own content, search functions, applications and games. It has content of every type and of every quality, so it’s necessary to render that content more useful in an effective and realistic way.

Also, companies that need insight on public opinion about a particular topic can rely on semantic technology to pull together relevant search results that accurately reflect the comments, tweets and posts about that product, idea or issue. Given these capabilities, it’s clear why Facebook sees such value in adding semantic analysis into its own search function. As the king of the social networks, with more users than Google, Facebook does not have to be in agreement with anyone regarding formats, ontologies, tags or concepts when it comes to semantic search. Because of this, Facebook can define its own standards and impose them on its users, putting it in a privileged position to start applying semantic technology to its own content beyond the “Like” feature. With a gradual, focused process, semantic search will prove both interesting and useful for Facebook and its users in the future.

Potential in the Enterprise

Nowhere is there greater potential for semantic technology than in the enterprise, especially as companies increasingly understand the value and impact of critical information coming from outside the organization via social media outlets. This information, in the form of unstructured data – comments on blogs and discussion forums, independent reviews, posts on Twitter, Facebook, etc. – has a great ability to influence the enterprise. It represents intelligence that, when coupled with internal data, can signal significant benefits for the bottom line.

With its functionality and ability to integrate structured and unstructured data, semantic technology supports corporate knowledge management and business intelligence efforts, especially in the areas of:

Customer service. Semantic technology helps companies analyze the conversations customers are having on the Web and provides useful insight in relation to overall customer needs. When it comes to interacting with call centers and online support, it provides an even greater customer service reach to provide immediate, thorough response to customer queries.

Competitive monitoring. Semantic technology helps companies take listening abilities one step further by capturing and analyzing the online opinions of users, understanding not only what is being discussed, but how it is being discussed. This enables companies to keep tabs on the latest information from competitors, as well as the reactions customers are having in response to competitive news.

Research and development. For organizations with a large focus on and investment in R&D, semantic technology’s ability to integrate structured and unstructured data enables organizations to share important data and manage a tremendous amount of information. This makes it an invaluable resource.

At its simplest, semantic technology is a listening technology; at its most complex, semantics support critical business decision-making. The fact is semantic technology helps break through information boundaries contained between business walls and the insight culled from the vast web of Internet consumers.

What’s Ahead for Semantic Technology?

Semantic technology will increasingly be recognized as a tool that helps provide early identification and analysis of consumer sentiment, purchasing trends, market deals and competitive information. Moving forward, monitoring social media-focused comments and conversations will be a core part of any business. By uncovering information in its true context and form, organizations will be able to strategize, analyze and make smarter predictions.

In the coming year, I think three trends will dominate the social semantic sphere:

  1. A higher value (and in turn an increased investment) will be placed on the ability to gather a dynamic, more accurate real-time view of the market.
  2. Traditional market research will begin to permanently incorporate social media influence through the use of semantic technology.
  3. An increased precision and quality in the search of social information will result as more companies enter the semantic space in an attempt to tame the semantic Web.

What are your predictions for semantic technology in the coming year, particularly as they relate to social media?

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