Digital productivity and the semantic web


If we deliver the right information to the right people in the right way, it will help us meet our goals
From: Bob Boiko: ”Laughing at the CIO”

New apps are constantly being developed, social media presence seems ever-increasing, video streaming is on the up and the list goes on. New possibilities, products and channels are constantly emerging and are at the disposal of all digital professionals. Management urges you to launch a Facebook-page for your organisation, because “everyone else does it” without formulating a single strategic sentence like the above by Bob Boiko.

At the same time there are numerous tasks relating to daily maintenance of existing systems, updates, applications, routines and content that most often don’t get the attention they need. There simply isn’t enough time to focus on existing solutions and consequently, quality suffers.

Digital productivity is declining and the time has come to consider productivity ahead of the next big thing.

2011: Another unproductive year?

Many a digital editor undoubtedly feels that the online or intranet presence could be much better. We hear this frustration regularly in the J. Boye groups, where members share their pain from working with clunky content management systems where it takes hours to get simple content online.

It will never be perfect, but the quality could and should be improved. Especially when you consider the amount of resources originally put into these digital channels.

The focus has shifted dramatically from a balance between maintenance and development towards development only. The bias is growing and something probably needs to happen.

From a customer perspective, the lacking sense of semantics combined with an ever-growing list of content and content types is one of the fundamental unsolved problems that leads to frustration, stress and an unproductive workday.

Can the semantic web help improve productivity?

Enabling computers to understand the “meaning” of digital information and help the user solve tasks or find information easier is the main idea behind the semantic web.

If you look at its potential, semantic web is clearly still in its infancy. But it holds the promise to substantially improve digital productivity and how we use and benefit from our online skills. It can also help lift the overall quality of the existing content, e.g. by automatically extracting metadata, offering better search and relevant linking.

But don’t be fooled. Semantic web cannot solve the challenge of the ever-growing amount of web content, but it can structure and even manage part of the content in a more meaningful way.

To quote Stéphane Croisier on the IKS Workshop in Paris this week: “Don’t do everything for everyone, but something for someone“. In other words, look at the most obvious problems with digital productivity e.g. lack of data quality and ask how semantic technology can alleviate it.

Do you think the semantic web has elements of the solution toward increased digital productivity?

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2 thoughts on “Digital productivity and the semantic web”

  1. No. The semantic web rests on the fallacious proposition that there are universal semantics. If there were universal semantics, encoding them in the web would be a trivial problem. Since there are no universal semantics, no encoding method advances productivity one whit.

    There is a continued hopeful optimism among some in the community that the problem of universal semantics can be solved by a universal taxonomy. But the problem is far deeper than differences in taxonomy, a subject I recently blogged about here:

    One of the greatest saps on digital productivity, I believe, is that so many people are wasting time and energy pursuing unattainable utopian dreams rather than focusing on more immediate and attainable goals.

  2. I’ll be a bit more optimistic than Mark.

    There’s a common pattern to many technologies. They start with grandiose visions: “X is going to save the world.” But the technology is rarely quite as good as the initial proponents think it is, and the problems of the world are almost always a lot more complex than they realize. (This is probably necessary for innovation: if the initial proponents weren’t wildly optimistic / if they could foresee all the pain involved with getting a new technology adopted, then they probably wouldn’t bother to innovate…) Then over time, two things happen: the technology improves, and people reset their expectations: “X is going to be a much better mouse trap.”

    This happened with machine vision, with robotics, with artificial intelligence, etc. They all started with grand visions. None of these visions have ever been attained, but a lot of useful stuff has been achieved along the way. I think the semantic web is probably going to go through the same pattern.

    I don’t think the semantic web needs universal semantics to be useful. I think there are many problems where local semantics (applying to a specific group of people for a specific problem domain) would help make things a lot easier. This is what the semantic web will eventually give us — a toolkit of useful stuff to help us solve these local problems.

    How quickly will it do it? I don’t know, but right now most of the tools in the kit are pretty specialist. It’s going to take a few years before they become widely useable by most of us…

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