"Semantic web is the future: Grasp it now" was the theme for the Web 3.0 Conference held in Santa Clara on Jan. 26-27. My take-way for the conference was that we are really talking about a group of semantic technologies which can be applied to different applications on the web. Understanding queries and providing relevant search results is the ongoing challenge, and that depends on context (are we back to talking about verticals?)
The foundations of semantic technologies are being hammered out in the standards community with OWL and RDF, and the community of classifiers, taxonomists and ontologists. Applying these standards is a long term process, so using them to improve search and findability on the web won't happen overnight.
The semantic web involves data linking and data pooling to advance the common good. Government information is a key market for linking and improving access, given the difficulty of access to legacy databases with different semantic structures. Pharma companies are starting to share basic data that is common, not proprietary information. Ben Ifeld of the Sacramento Press, an on-line newspaper, cited the value of linking and aggregating data from the legion of city government websites, using semantic technologies to provide a database for reporters.
The consensus is that the so-called semantic web is in its infancy. My observation is that it has different meanings depending on whether the application is branding, advertising or information retrieval. So stay tuned to next year.....