Talis, a UK software company that has pioneered semantic web and linked data technology, has closed its generic semantic web division due to insufficient commercial interest.
In a statement, the company said that "the commercial realities for linked data technologies and skills whilst growing is still doing so at a very slow rate, too slow for us to sustain our current levels of investment".
Born out of a coalition of libraries in Birmingham, Talis sold its library management software division to services giant Capita last year, pledging to focus on semantic web technology, which allows data on the web to be marked up with metadata describing its meaning.
It later shifted its focus to ‘linked data’, the principle of assigning individuals items of data their own link, or uniform resource identifier (URI).
In 2011, it launched a cloud-hosted linked data platform called Kasabi, allowing business to publish their own data online. In an interview with Information Age earlier this year, Kasabi CTO Leigh Dodds indicated that commercial interest had been limited.
Today, Talis CEO Dave Errington told Information Age: "The semantic web as a notion has been around for over ten years and we feel we have done as much as anyone to evangelise the benefits of the resultant web of data and its graph based data models. However we also feel that there isn’t and won’t be an addressable market that coalesces around the technologies themselves. Rather, they are being absorbed into mainstream use."
Talis will now focus its efforts on applying semantic web technology in the education sector, helping universities to catalogue their learning materials. The company’s Aspire application allows higher education institutions to create online reading lists and is currently used by over 40 universities in the UK.
"We have learnt an incredbile amount in the last five years of involvement in the semantic web community but we now see a clearer, more timely and potentially very large opportunity to help transform education by applying many of these technologies and techniques, hence our decision [to refocus] our efforts and investments," said Errington.
Talis was involved in two significant linked data projects in the UK – the government open data portal data.gov.uk and the BBC’s Wildlife Finder project.
Both data.gov.uk and the BBC were highlighted by analyst company Gartner in a recent research report that described linked data as "the best way of opening, integrating and sharing data to meet the needs of the evolving web".
Thanks to Talis and projects such as these, the UK has built some world-beating semantic web expertise.
In 2010, presumably on advice from Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt, then prime minister Gordon Brown said that the semantic web "has the potential to be just as revolutionary – just as disruptive to existing business and organisational models – as the web was itself, moving us from a web of managing documents and files to a web of managing data and information – and thus opening up the possibility of by-passing current digital bottlenecks and getting direct answers to direct requests for data and information.”