Web 3.0 or Google+? It’s All Semantics

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Marketers know better than most what a roiling sea of buzzwords and acronyms we traverse on our messaging and lead-generation campaigns in the digital marketing age. So keeping up with the latest, seemingly relevant terms, trends, and concepts can be practically a full-time job.

 Take “Web 3.0” for instance. It’s nearly impossible to find or nail down a singular, solid definition of the next wave of digital marketing. So at the risk of hearing boos and catcalls, let me employ another overused catchphrase to tell you the two things you need to know about it:

1)      Yes, “Web 3.0” is yet another paradigm shift, BUT…

2)      Only certain kinds of businesses will need to change strategy for it.

Roundup: The Definition Derby

Let’s get one thing out of the way: “Mobile” is not equivalent to Web 3.0, although it’s one catalyst that’s leading us toward it at breakneck speed. To get at the practical meaning of what Web 3.0 calls online marketers and digital content strategists to do, let’s first look at how one dictionary and the technorati are defining Web 3.0.

Back in 2006, New York Times journalist John Markoff coined the phrase “Web 3.0” to refer to:

“…a supposed third generation of Internet-based services that collectively comprise what might be called ‘the intelligent Web’—such as those using the semantic web, microformats, natural language search, data mining, machine learning, recommendation agents, and artificial intelligence technologies—which emphasize machine-facilitated understanding of information in order to provide a more productive and intuitive user experience.”

A Wikipedia article notes that ‘Web 3.0” is often used synonymously with “the semantic web,” which it explains as:

“A ‘web of data’ that facilitates machines to understand the semantics, or meaning, of information on the World Wide Web. It extends the network of hyperlinked human-readable web pages by inserting machine-readable metadata about pages and how they are related to each other, enabling automated agents to access the Web more intelligently and perform tasks on behalf of users.”

It’s All About the Data

So what does this mean in practice? “Chief Marketing Technologist” Scott Brinker says that Web 3.0 data needs to be open, linkable, and shareable. What digital content strategists and marketers need to do to take advantage of it, he says, is to structure their data and then “set it free.”

In other words, Web 3.0 is like Woodstock for data. No longer will data be siphoned from websites and mobile apps only to be silo’ed away in databases and spreadsheets. The semantic web theoretically enables any website to access published structured data and connect it to complementary sets of related data, anywhere users and applications need it.

And the reason for that super-connectivity is to enable the creation of context for users and web applications that can help define and deliver a more meaningful web experience: more conversions, higher customer satisfaction, longer customer life cycles, and so on.

Practical Examples of Web 3.0 in Action

Buying and Selling Used Cars: W3Schools.com offers a scenario based on the popular real-world scenario of buying and selling used cars online. A system could be constructed comprising one application for buyers and one for sellers of cars online that searches all car-sales sites anywhere on the web that work with semantic-web standards.

  • Buyers would create individual IDs that would be stored in an RDF file, which is a document written in the Resource Description Framework langauge that keeps information in a structured format called metadata. Also stored would be names, physical addresses, and email addresses for each. When a buyer does a search for available used cars, the application would present a list of results based on information from a web spider that continuously searches the web for RDF files.
  • Sellers would enter information on the cars available for sale–such as make, model, picture, mileage–that would be stored in a different RDF file.
  • Behind the Scenes: The application would create an RDF file with pointers to other RDF files that contain information about each maker’s models, pointers to car dealers and resellers, pointers to parts for that car model, pointers to pricing by seller and industry-wide, etc.
  • The Benefit: No matter where the buyer or seller were looking or listing on the web, the information most relevant to their needs would be presented to them without their having to enter their details more than once.

Advertising Placement: Not long ago Google announced support for the RDF format, which many online advertisers feel was in direct response to the need for improvements in automated ad placement. British development firm iO1 notes that, as the web has gained critical mass, ad-placement technology has been stymied as to how to prevent such disastrous occurrences as the placement of a Cisco TelePresence ad featuring a non-visible teleconference “attendee” who was spending his time on mute making and crashing paper airplanes. The problem: it was a video ad that ran directly before a video news story on The Guardian’s website about the crash of a Turkish Airlines flight.

The problem from a technical perspective is that the… page has no context from which the ad server (Google AdSense, Yahoo, etc.) can tell which is the right advertisement to display, so they guess.

So in the case of an online advertiser, having an RDF-ready website would make it possible to embed pointers to external sources of contextual information that could help the ad-placement code determine whether, as iO1 suggested, a blogger’s reference to watching “Danger Mouse” on TV the previous night is referring to the British cartoon about the world’s greatest secret agent or to the musician and songwriter of the same name. That makes it much simpler to determine whether the page should serve up an Amazon ad for a Gnarls Barkley MP3 download or  for the cartoon series DVD.

Bricks-and-Mortar Details for Customers: Using data structured according to industry standards such as RDF can help with search-engine results in ways that businesses with physical storefronts will find highly useful. Embedding specific metadata that describes hours of operation and phone numbers makes it more likely that such stores’ pages appear near the top of the page, and deliver more actionable information to potential customers even before they click through to your site.

Should You Adapt Now and Avoid the Rush?

Well… yes and no. Some pundits are saying that Google+ is Web 3.0. In fact, the complex layers of metadata already created by humans and machines are most definitely being promoted and exploited by Google. What’s more, the free tools offered by Google–like Google Calendar, Gmail, and Google Apps–are pushing practical, personal uses of shared data and cloud computing to early adopters in the consumer space.

But is this a concern for every medium or large business going forward? Clearly, advertising-driven service businesses like Yelp.com and Yahoo, retail companies focused on e-business, and many recreation and travel-industry companies—among others–can benefit from access to structured data that help them build meaningful connections that support meaningful offers, interaction, and relationships with their site visitors.

Companies like Thomson-Reuters combine access to the news as content with access to industry-specific business research for several major industries. A company like this has a compelling reason to structure and link its data and make it easily accessible to businesses with complementary services. (And this, no doubt, is precisely what led Thomson-Reuters to create the free Calais system for automating part of the process of marking up raw web pages for companies who want to make their web pages “more semantic.”)

Start Simple

As of July 2011, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have published a shared “ontology” or set of vocabularies for publishing structured web data at www.schema.org. This is an important step toward allowing corporate applications to do more powerful things with structured databases around the  globe that are relevant to the way they do business.

If your main interest in Web 3.0 is in more effective web engagement, start with a web content management system (CMS or WCM) that helps your visitors and customers:

  • Find things more easily by way of easy, well-thought out search capabilities
  • Find things more easily through overall site design and a meaningful site map

In addition, your web content management system should assist you in:

  • Building a solid taxonomy for your website
  • Creating structured content or data
  • Crafting a metadata strategy that makes your content more “findable,” reusable, and easily tracked
  • Publishing content in multiple formats
  • Readily importing and exporting that content, certainly within the enterprise, such as to SharePoint and back, and outwardly to business and advertising partners as needed.

Go Wide–If it’s Right for Your Business

If on the other hand, your business model lends itself to data marketing, then you’re no doubt planning to gear up and take strategic action. This will involve not only deep thinking about business strategy, but possibly adding some headcount. It will most definitely, of course, require you to think differently about your brand and your entire digital marketing strategy.

Brinker said, “The essence of Web 3.0 for marketers is to think about data for customers, not just data about customers.” So Web 3.0 should affect your customer engagement/customer experience design process and your content management planning, as well.

If you don’t currently employ content strategists or a Chief Content Officer, now may be the time to draft a job description. Your focus now must be on designing content that supports and even drives meaningful engagement across platforms at each state of the marketing lifecycle.

ContentManagement.com will offer deeper information on structured data standards and practices in a separate article, but now is a good time to consider whether or not your organization needs a strategy that will leverage the implicit power of Web 3.0 as it becomes a reality.

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