I get asked this question a lot, and I'd like to get your help in answering it. As co-chairman of the Semantic Technology Conference, I see lots of customer organizations experimenting and adopting semantic technologies – especially ontology-driven development projects and semantic search tools - and seemingly as many start-ups and new products emerging to address their requirements. It's an exciting time to be in this space and I'm glad to have a part to play. But back to the question of "what will it take?" I don't think anyone has all the answers, though it seems there's a growing consensus about how semantics will eventually take hold:
1. A Little Semantics Goes a Long Way
I think it was Jim Hendler who first used the expression, and I find myself in stark agreement. Much of the criticism of the semantic web vision focuses on the folly of trying to boil the ocean, yet many of the successful early adopters are getting nice results by taking small incremental steps. There's a good exchange at Dave Beckett's blog on this point.
2. Realistic Expectations
I guess this relates to my first point, but I remain concerned about the hype and expectations that are being set around the semantic web, and now the term Web 3.0. I, as much as anyone, would love to see the semantics field explode with growth, but this market is going to be driven by customers, not vendors, and the corporate clients I see are taking a cautious approach. I think they'll catch on eventually, but let's not try to push them too far, too fast.
3. We Don't Need a Killer App
Personally I think we need to look at semantic capabilities as an increasing component of the web and computing infrastructure, as opposed than trying to identify a killer app that's going to kickstart a buying frenzy. If a killer app emerges then that's great, but don't hold your breath. There's plenty of value to be gained in the meantime. More than anything, we need to demonstrate speedy, cheap ways to get started with semantics. This will be far more useful in the long run.
4. We Need to Get Business Mindshare
It's so obvious that I'm almost embarrassed to say it, but the main point is that we need to improve how we're currently demonstrating the business value of semantic technology. I see a few key ways we can improve, starting with a greater willingness to talk about the projects already taking place. Secondly, I think we can leverage existing technology trends – especially SOA and mashups – to show how semantic technology can add value to these efforts. Third, and I might risk offending some people with this, but in the short term we should be emphasizing cost savings and reduced time to deployment over and above the extra intelligence and functionality that semantics can provide. Especially for corporate customers. Semantic SOA can save hugely over conventional approaches in data integration and interface projects, and this is where most businesses are really feeling the pain right now. This is a short and probably incomplete list of ideas. There's more at the Semantic Technology Conference.