By Felice Bochman, special to The Content Wrangler
Web 3.0 should allow people to have a better online experience.
So said uber tech gurus, Mark Greaves formerly of DARPA (and currently of Vulcan) and Alex Iskold of GetGlue, some time ago.
On January, 26 and 27, in Santa Clara, CA, Mediabistro hosted a Web 3.0 Conference for some straight-talk and much brainstorming (by big guns at companies such as Mojiva, Primal Fusion, Thoora, and more) about the semantic web.
What is the semantic web, fondly known as Web 3.0 (and sometimes known as the contextual web)? Here it is in nine words, distilled from a jargon-heavy conference: user-experience, meaning, intent, story, relevance, mobile, data, share, and free.
Want it in one? Real. (Really real…as in less contrived.)
Web 3.0 is not quite your mother’s web, though Web 2.0 has indeed put us into position.
What happened to Web 2.0? Nothing.
The web is and always was a semantic entity anyway so don’t get all twitched-out about a new name or a giant explosion on a certain date or anything. This is about an evolution in meaningful, interactive web experience that’s the result of improving technologies and innovation so constant it’s happening while I write this. Think of it as a big, soft upgrade.
But if you feel like you have muffin-top when it comes to Web 2.0, you’re on track. It’s too tight. While Web 2.0 isn’t failing (yet), it is going to pass into history sooner than later. As with “muffin-top” and your too-tight pants, there are two solutions for your jiggly Web 2.0 practices:
- firm up
- and get bigger pants
Luckily, for Web 3.0, these are not mutually exclusive directives…hallelujah.
Is it all good? Yes…even though parts of it may ding others as some technologies race ahead and others lag behind. And, yes, if you get on board and get educated. If you don’t, it’ll be a slow and kinda painful “see ya later” as your site drowns in its own and other data.
Whether you’re in content, search, marketing, product, or research, you need the semantic web to help bring you back to earth, well, okay, to your user’s earth where they are trying like mad to manage, link, engage in, and otherwise grapple with the flood of data (generated by our own use).
Don’t panic. Build basics.
Right off the bat, let me answer two burning Web 3.0 questions for marketing folks who want the scoop on ROI:
- Twitter or something like it (as in maybe/maybe not the Twitter brand) has staying-power. The “tweet”-ness of this application is permanent. Don’t overlook that branding swipe either…a name isn’t bank and if people can’t find what they want with you, they’ll find it elsewhere. In fact, they already are. That means driving branding efforts to further define your company will be more important than ever…not less so.
- Pay-for-Performance is eventually going to overtake Pay-per-Impression. Love it or leave it.
- If you haven’t taken mobile seriously, go to Mojiva and don’t waste another second. You cannot miss the mark on mobile—even if it takes you some time to figure it out – get started.
Speaking of Mojiva, Branden Claisse, Director of Business Development and Media Sales at Mojiva, Inc. has this to say about marketing in the semantic web atmosphere: it’s about data and user intent. Marketing services, such as Mojiva, don’t need to understand that much about your business. They need YOU to understand your business. The semantic web can mine for ways to more deeply integrate your user’s experience of the market and serve them with better options. And, if you have global in mind, mobile isn’t a choice…it’s mandatory or you’ll miss as much as half of your potential market. Sounds like a lot, huh? It is.
Claisse reports that reach, penetration of the smart phone, and explosion of content on the application side are they key factors which have altered the web so drastically in just the last year. And, he warns companies against the misconception that this is some kind of “young person’s” phenomenon..all that mobile stuff and devices. “Look around you and see the mobile use in action,” Claisse says pointedly. (Actually, I’m seeing it now…Moms in their 40’s at Big Name Coffee Place pushing strollers…doesn’t seem like some young person’s thing to me.)
But what about the metrics? Those are changing too (sorry, folks but it was inevitable…Mojiva can help you though). Think “dwell time” and “time spent” as growing in importance over the ubiquitous “click.” Luckily, there’s no 1-answer for everybody (that’s very sem-web, by the way). Claisse urges companies to really understand their own goals and needs. When it comes to expanding into mobile, it simply gives your users a more targeted and relevant experience. And, think less about writing or marketing to the web, think more in terms your company’s story and the things which are relevant to your user base, whether small or large. This…in case you felt your ears burning…has to do with the whole concept of “real” that I mentioned above and it’ll work for marketeers, publishers, and web writers alike. More important, it plays a huge role in the feeling your user base gets from you..definitely don’t want their ears burning. It impacts customer loyalty.
On the concept of “real,” Claisse is convincing. It goes straight to the heart of branding in the semantic web atmosphere. Take social media for example. Whether the current big name lasts as a brand is an unknown, but as a function it will grow. But, more and more the barrier to effective social media functionality is how to manufacture real. Sounds like a contradiction in terms but it isn’t. How can companies message to real? Claisse said you have to aim for as true a connection as possible and experience that “tingly feeling.” (If I’ve ever heard something like a meaningful intangible actually voiced by a web pro, this is certainly it. I like this kind of web.) In fairness to Branden Claisse, don’t let the “tingly feeling” fool you…it’s not a warm and fuzzy accident.
That “tingling feeling” isn’t something you should ignore. Case in point? Check out the concept of thought networking. Peter Sweeney, Founder and CTO, at Primal Fusion says that although the value proposition offered by social networking will remain constant, better technology is going to bring more knowledge-based applications to bear on the social web. That’s good news, I think. We’re all getting a little tired of the whole “friending” thing (real friends notwithstanding, of course).
Gathering knowledge via social media and/or one’s social network is becoming the search mode of the future. Might be a little tough to get your head around it, but think of the social side of the web as a platform for people connecting to other people and then the “non-social” side as the use of these relationships as intermediary channels for search queries or for needed business information. Sweeney says social networking connections are for more than just your vacation photos (okay, that’s probably the understatement of the year) but can indeed also be the conduit for finding experts and expert content. Current social networks just do not do a good job at mediating knowledge, according to Sweeney.
What the heck does this mean for you, your company, and the social web in general?
Here’s where it’s going: semantic knowledge networks that function without the baggage of social networks (or simply without the social part of social networks). This industry, Sweeney says, is “ripe for disruption.” That means innovation is needed now and is already happening in real time. Sage-like, Sweeney confirms that you just can’t use the old ways and expect a new result. Semantic web doesn’t work like that. There’s no magic or fairy dust to sprinkle over degrading Web 2.0 “stuff” – it has to change before it gets better or offers new, more precise and more usable results.
To drive the point home, Sweeney suggest the above is akin to the industrialization of social media…it’s not about being social, it’s about machine automation. Industrialization of social media is NOT going to happen along with the development social media…an important distinction that will have huge impact on productivity options. But, Sweeney warns that if you think social media is the end of the story, you’re missing it. You’ll miss the massive potential of the social web as a productive channel for marketing. Again, think hard, start slow…but get started. He sites The Huffington Post, BBC, and NYT as media companies who are successfully embracing social media while pushing on the potential for marketing (at least it isn’t someone we’ve never heard of). De-couple the automation of the industrialized social web from the social side of social networking…yet don’t think of them as binary. Confused? Don’t be. Just think about it in terms of tasks and intent. Thing about what your user’s intentions are when they’re using social networking platforms and how (and if) these intentions pertain to your company.
Joining us in the discussion of Primal Fusion’s industry contributions was Derrick Cho, Director of Sales and Marketing at the company. Get an invitation to try Primal Fusion’s alpha and you can see for yourself what thought networking can do for you. In the very near future, Primal Fusion will make it very easy for you to sign up and try them on for size, so keep an eye on their site.
There’s a lot to say about Web 3.0 and changing notions of authorship. Part of the change will involve how companies value content and decide to monetize it. Sounds like a no-brainer but it’s going to take a while to evolve…good and bad. At two ends of the writing and news media spectrum are Demand Media and it’s gazillion underpaid writers but oodles of connected content and the more hyper-local, power-to-the-people, The Sacramento Press and their new product, SLOAN, to help local folks get their ads up. Situated also in the semantic news media phenomenon is the actual phenom that is Thoora.
Is content king these days? Well, I think we can safely say that at least content isn’t content (as in not comfortable). What is a sure thing about contextualized, sem-web content is that meaning is king. If content could be dethroned, it would actually be as a promotion to a more meaning-based unit. The article is no longer the editorial end-all and be-all. Meaning, however, is. Again, bring back the “real.”
Ben Ilfeld, Co-founder and COO of The Sacramento Press, parent company Castle Press, LLC, and his new local marketing product SLOAN insists enthusiastically that meaning is key. Writers have to get to the meaning of their story. Storytelling is everything….forget writing specifically for the medium. Worry less about space and time limitations and older editorial conventions. The burden is placed more on meaning as it resonates with humans and computers alike. Why?
Sacramento Local Online Ad Network (SLOAN) Introduction from Ben Ilfeld on Vimeo.
You want computers to suggest your stories to other people so they can put their own narratives together…narratives which are relevant to them. One thing that professional web writers, journalist and bloggers can know for sure (if they haven’t guessed already) is that more and more people will be “cobblers” of information. Keeping meaning key to writing and “storytelling” on the web will ensure that your content quality stays high and ultimately “share-able” in a market with such an unknown future.
Ilfeld goes on to say that Tweets are the new headlines—in fact more powerful than headlines. Why? They’re like a pulse for the nervous system of the web. (Readers beware, this is not the first neurological or biological metaphor that surfaced at the conference.) In fact, Ilfeld finds this to be one of the more interesting features of the semantic web – as it grows, as we’re trying to construct the semantic web – the web becomes more biological and organic than technical. It’s still a slow process though. The Web 3.0 revolution is about managing the flow of news data and it will be a continuous process of innovation. In the short run, the break (or let’s say discontinuity) between corporate and creative will be worse. This doesn’t mean that that excellent creative content should be free or is in unlimited supply. But, how to find it, monetize it, build a community with it is still relatively unknown. For writers who are shaking in their boots (oops, I mean “bots”), Ilfeld says, “Innovative industries require crazy optimistic people!” (Now I know where I fit in.) Programming is becoming less expensive, but figuring out what to do with the best content has yet to be determined. For better or worse, it’s the large corporations that will probably get to make the rules about content valuation.
The Sacramento Press focuses on transformational stories (stories that impact people at a more personal level) and hyper-local content, and not so much on the “Top Stories” of the day that might appear on almost any news site. That said, Ilfeld find’s value and interest in CEO Mike Lee’s, online news site, Thoora, which also allows for relevant stories to rise to the top, despite the popularity of their authors. Thoora tracks relevance (right down to the grammar) on several vectors and as a result, reporting news isn’t just a popularity contest. While Ilfeld admits that both The Sacrament Press and Thoora are probably a bit ahead of the online media curve, he’s excited about the content debate fired up by what it means for stories to be personal without being personalized. Personal has better impact, grabs readers, and keeps them. It also creates a conversation…and that’s a huge part of online news media.
Ilfeld says contextualizing your writing isn’t the only thing that web writers need to do. They need to think of each story they are writing as a continuation to a conversation that is ongoing. A writer’s comment section is more meaningful than ever. He urges writers to be more focused, m ore interactive, and more inclusive in their linking practices. Links should be thought of as a person-to-person function, and not worried about as content to content problems. To link is to make your writing alive…and to allow it to live out there on the web. Word of caution: don’t be casual about your links…make sure they’re right and that they work (otherwise they can hurt as much as they can help). Ilfeld reminds writers (and corporate content folks) that not linking off site is deadly when as much as half your readership might be “bots.” And, if they can’t find you…well, enough said. Let journalists reach other journalists and comment on each others writing, stories, blogs, etc. It’s about keeping great writers and great content noticed.
Getting great writers and great stories noticed is uppermost in the mind of Mike Lee, CEO at Thoora. Commenting on The Sacramento Press, Lee finds Ilfeld to be brilliant and insightful as well as on target when it comes to their hyper-local focus and emphasis on their plan to produce differentiated content that affect people’s everyday lives. Says Lee of the progress made by The Sacramento Press, “It’s intelligent and what’s missing in today’s market.”
In terms of what’s missing or the biggest obstacle facing the online news community, Lee says lack of differentiation is it. It’s so important to understand how to differentiate yourself in a world where consumers can go from one source to another with a couple of strokes at a keyboard or mouse. The challenge in the media industry is lack of data and information to support levels of differentiation when the topic coverage is more broad. I think that’s a role that we [Thoora] can play.
So, how does Thoora play?
They index stories in real time and then look at all content available on the subject at hand. The approach is both human created and hand selected. Most of stuff written is not indexed or written properly, they find. Thoora goes in and individually evaluates each contribution on the basis of quality of writing (right down to the grammar), relevance, popular influence, historical performance, twitter response, among other indicators, and then ranks stories accordingly. It allows great content to rise up, but doesn’t necessarily rank the content based on pure popularity…again, great news for strong writers with small or niche topics and or audiences. Basically, Thoora is looking for the best written stories and the most potent storytelling. It’s pretty literary considering the webby-ness of it.
In our interview, Lee commented on some of the jargon that littered the conference. Specific to content is the ontology editor (I hesitate to link to Wikipedia here, but there’s such a wide range of ontology editor tools available that I believe this will give you a wide shot of the applications out there.)
According to Lee, ontology editors define relationships between relevant terms within a domain…makes the connections and provides structure around content. Some hard core semantics would argue that computers could write articles…no way! Beware of totally removing the human factor in any web system. Lee continues, Thoora takes a different approach. Because we’re processing so much data in real time, Thoora produces real time ontology for each story….finds what makes each story common and drives out an ontology for each story. Thoora makes decisions about relevance and does not allow keywords to drive evaluation. Lee says, Michael Jackson is not a keyword! His death and his doctor, for example, are two separate stories with separate coverages, and editorial. Lee encourages very fine parsing. He also references what is now called an “ecosystem,” all the components and assets that go into writing a story (content, article, blogs, video, tweets, etc.).
Lee encourages companies with content needs to really understand which data is important for their use and goals. How it impacts their decision making process should guide their purchase of new technology. Also, and probably as scary for the corporate side is this exhortation from Mike Lee,”Don’t think about owning information…instead defend a domain of expertise. Get over yourself. Think of an editorial team across web.”
But what about best practices for writers and editors while everything seems to be in such flux? One outspoken conference attendee, Miram Bookey, who oversees web development and editorial at Mind Over Media, offered the following “So this is what I should do, right?” summation at the end of the 2-day event. I will offer them to you as:
Miriam’s Must’s for Web 3.0
These seven directives reflect an early best practices for writers and marketing folks alike. Take them to heart please..including the companies, tools, and applications she mentions. They are examples of forward thinking—semantic web thinking – for all of us. Thanks, Miriam…for helping us get some content into our content!
- It’s about being a problem solver for my audience, so make great content or mashup existing content in a new and wonderful way.
- It’s about giving me page authority, so link to relevant data (can use extraction engines like Zemanta or a content delivery platform like Evri).
- It’s about making me relevant by being the owner (and sharer) of data, so don’t hoard it (my data may have value for me under my umbrella, but maybe has 10x the value if I package it for other people to use and mashup and aggregate).
- It’s about making my data more search-able in the world of semantic search, so make sure my structure/descriptive tags/captions/snippets/onsite-search-results are awesome (check out solutions from OpenCalais, Textwise, Textdigger, Rich Snippets for Google, SearchMonkey for Yahoo. And…can we do anything about captions via Bing? Help?
- It’s about harvesting the amazing amount of data that’s already out there, so get out there and find it (open data assets, partnerships, APIs).
- It’s about being where the consumer is going to be, so get on mobile.
- It’s about not making it impossible, so if I have the luxury to start fresh, pick the right content management system to make it all happen (OpenPublish is one option that is locked and loaded for the semantic web).
Finally, these two writers should be on your radar now:
Semantically mindful writer and blogger Mark. S. Luckie (yes, his real name). Fast becoming an icon of digital journalism, his Digital Journalist’s Handbook is just out…literally, hot off the press, if we can still say such things.
And on Web 3.0 branding and marketing check out the innovative thinking, Mark Twain-quoting, wiz blogger Josh Jones-Dilworth and his biz posts on Mashable.
When it comes to search across the web, the man to talk to is Andrew Hickl, Co-founder and President at Extractiv, Founder and Managing Partner at Swingly, and CEO at Language Computer Corporation. Busy! However, he did have time to fill in some of the gaps in understanding the full impact of the semantic web. In answer to a number of questions put to him about search and the semantic web, he takes an innovative but common sense approach.
Hickl says, lots of folks are out there talk about “semantic search” as this mystical shiny new app that someone’s going to build, package up, and market to the masses. Folks who think this (heaven help’em) are going to be sorely disappointed…it’s just not going to happen quite that way.
The real challenge, he says, that we have in semantic search is distinguishing amongst technologies that improve search — and technologies or tools that improve search by virtue of being “semantic” (in some way or another).
Hickl says the technology is in place right now to tell you what anyone is saying (or has said) about you (or your competitors) anywhere on the internet. What’s more, he continues, we have the ability to tell you why they’re saying it, how influential they are, and how to get in touch with them. “Not interested in knowing about what people are saying,” Hickl says, “we’ve also got the tools to track any kind of event that you might be interested in, from new product launches to failed drug trials to IED explosions in Afghanistan. We’ve also got the ability to build dossiers on any person, place, organization, or thing that you ever might be interested in — even if it’s too esoteric or ridiculous to show up on Wikipedia.”
You heard it. As Hickl makes abundantly clear, the semantic web has been hard at work for quite some time…improving on search technologies and the web in general even while the rest of us we’re just coming to terms with Web 2.0.
Welcome to Web 3.0, everyone. It’s your web folks. Use it!
What’s that? You need a virtual personal assistant to help with all this semantic goodness? Check out Siri – something very, very fabulous from Tom Gruber and his team. Chicken is nice, but let’s get this app in every pot!
About the Author
Felice Bochman is a web content/editorial expert and eCommerce consultant for Web 2.0/3.0 best practices. She was the former Senior Editorial Director at Care.com, and prior to that the Managing Editor of US and Canadian Regional Websites at Babyzone.com. She’s widely published on the web, has edited several books, and is currently freelancing about the semantic web and working on a young adult book. Felice lives near Boston with two very, webby kids.