A brief talk with Joe Pairman

June 23, 2017

Joe Pairman is Consulting Lead at Mekon LTD in Sutton, United Kingdom and invited industry speaker at the conference.

Can you tell something about your work/research focus?

I help organizations make large bodies of information more readable, accessible, accurate, and cost-effective. For many industries and outputs, that’s best achieved through granular, structured content. That is, treating content not as documents or web pages but as smaller chunks of information, demarcated by metadata that describes the type of each chunk, its rhetorical role in a wider context, and perhaps the specific real-world entities to which it relates. For non-specialist authors to create and manage content in this way, specialized tools and systems are needed, but technology on its own is not enough. Organizations need to change their approach to producing  content through thoughtful modeling and skillful mentoring.

Oddly, the field of structured content has had only limited exchange with the semantic web / linked data community. With some notable exceptions such as work by NXP Semiconductors, the potential of semantic technologies to improve structured authoring and dynamic, granular publishing has not been realized. Over the last few years, Mekon has been doing something about this: through work with organizations such as Talend as well as partners like Semantic Web Company and FontoXML, we’ve moved the structured content field forward so that the benefits are now much clearer, and interest in taxonomy / semantic tech is becoming more mainstream. I am also initiating a proposal for defining semantic technology interoperability for the OASIS DITA standard.

Which trends and challenges you see for linked data/semantic web?

As always, a major challenge is to build interest and buy-in to these approaches beyond the narrow group of enthusiasts and those who are mandated to adopt linked data for policy reasons, such as government agencies. In general, there are two ways to enthuse the wider potential market. The first is to establish a semantic layer as a generally accepted essential component of an enterprise architecture. This will continue to be effective, although it takes sustained effort and is vulnerable to the peak and subsequent trough of a bandwagon effect. The second way is to use semantic technologies to build solutions for organizations in a range of commercial industries, and then use these solutions to demonstrate the benefits to others in the same industries. This is an approach that is important not only in bringing new interest to the semantic web, but also in sustaining that interest over time. Showing continued concrete innovation builds confidence and reinforces the first approach of bringing the semantic web into mainstream architecture.

What are your expectations about Semantics 2017 in Amsterdam, especially about the industry track?

I’m very happy to see that there is a strong commercial focus this year, and I hope that mine and others’ presentations in the industry track will be convincing examples of the kinds of case studies I mentioned just now. I’m also very pleased to see that there is more of an external search focus, with semantic search expert Aaron Bradley giving a keynote. So I see Semantics 2017 as a great opportunity for the semantic web to move further into the commercial mainstream.

Is there anything you want to add?

For anyone who’s interested in the relationship between writing and semantically-structured content, the workshop I’m giving along with FontoXML and the Semantic Web Company will give you a chance to get your hands dirty and wrestle with some tricky problems that technology alone won’t solve!