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Highlights of Online Information 2009: Semantic Web and Social Web

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 4 December 2009

Online Information 2009

I summarised my thoughts of the Online Information 2009 conference in a tweet:

Back home after gr8t #online09 Thoughts: #semanticweb was the highlight & relevant for early mainstream; #socialweb now embedded.

This resonated with Andrew Spong who responded:

Best review u’ll c: RT @briankelly: #online09 Thoughts: #semanticweb was highlight & relevant for early mainstream; #socialweb now embedded.

On reflection, however, if I hadn’t been so tired when writing that tweet last night my summary would have been:

Thoughts: #semanticweb was the highlight & relevant for early mainstream; #socialweb now accepted.

Semantic Web: Time for the Early Mainstream Adopters to Engage

The buzz at the conference clearly focussed on the Semantic Web. The conference’s opening keynote was delivered by Dame Wendy Hall and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, both highly regarded researchers at the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton whose long standing and influential involvement which dates back to the early days of the Web continues to the present, as can be seen from the recent meeting of Professor Nigel Shadbolt  and Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Gordon Brown, in which “Mr Berners-Lee and Mr Shadbolt presented an update to Cabinet on their work advising the Government on how to make data more accessible to the public“.

The opening plenary provided a high level context to the relevance of the Semantic Web to information professionals. Over the 3 days of the conference the main auditorium featured a series of further talks  focussed on a variety of aspects of the Semantic Web, including thoughts on how the potential of the Semantic Web may be realised, its use in Government, case studies of uses of Semantic Web applications in commerce and the public sector and discussions of standards and metadata.

I’ll not attempt to summarise any of the talks but if you do want to find out more details of the talks and people’s thoughts on the talks I suggest you visit the Online Information 2009 Conference Web site or search for the event’s hashtag: #online09 (note the tweets have also been archived on Twapperkeeper). I’d also welcome links to relevant blog posts to be added as a comment to this post.

Social Web: Now Accepted by the Mainstream

I gave a talk on “Building on Use of Personal Web 2.0 Technologies” at the conference and also chaired the session on “Evaluating, recommending and justifying 2.0 tools“. As I said when I introduced the session, the fact that the Social Web sessions are not being held in the main auditorium is indicative that the Social Web is no longer the exciting new concept which it was a few years ago. But it has also turned out not be be the ‘fad’ which the sceptics predicted; rather it is now widely (but not universally) accepted by many public sector and commercial organisations. The “Social Web: Transforming The Workplace” sessions which, as with the “Semantic Web Coming of Age” sessions ran throughout the conference provided additional advocacy work illustrating how Social Web tools , such as blogs and Twitter, are being incorporated into mainstream working practices and are being shown to provide tangible benefits. The maturity of the discussions about the Social Web could be seen by the willingness to acknowledge limitations (Twitter, for example, may avoid the information overload which email causes, but can bring new problems and concerns). In my talk I mentioned potential risks associated with use of the Social Web, this time focusing on the use of personal tools to support institutional activities – a subject I’ll revisit in another post.

Information Professionals Delivering and Demonstrating Value

The third conference theme was “Information Professionals Delivering and Demonstrating Value“. The title of Mary Ellen Bates’ talk provides a blunter summary of an additional undercurrent to the conference: “Living Large in Lean Times: Adding Value While Cutting Costs“. The question of “how do we engage in such innovation when public sector funding is likely to decline” underpinned the thinking of many delegates form public sector organisations, I suspect, whilst the views of those from the commercial sector was probably summarised by the tweet I spotted which said “How do we monetise the Semantic Web?

Conclusions

I found this year’s conference really useful, with lots of value discussions and chats taking place. As well as gaining an awareness of the importance of how the three conference themes are being perceived by the information professions internationally an additional personal highlight for me was seeing Dr Hazel Hall’s look of astonishment and delight when it was announced that she was the Information Professional of the Year. I met Hazel, the director of the Centre for Social Informatics, Edinburgh Napier University and the executive secretary, Library and Information Science Coalition, on the train from London to Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago, after I tweeted that I was on the train and received a response saying “Me too, shall we meet”. We then had a great chat and the four hour journey to Edinburgh passed very quickly.  A great conference all around, I feel.


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

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