Web 3.0: 'Vague, but Exciting'


When computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee first submitted his 1989 paper, "Information Management: A Proposal," his boss, Mike Sendall, wrote "vague, but exciting" on it by way of endorsing what was the blueprint for the World Wide Web.
Two decades later, Berners-Lee and others are formulating what can be called the third generation of the Web, the "semantic Web," or "Web 3.0." I know, I know, most of us are still trying to deal with Web 2.0 as part of a very confusing marketing landscape.
Here's a quick primer for marketers:

Web 1.0 (the information Web), the one we all know and love, is straightforward. It's full of content that we can surround with ads, mainly in the form of banners. Many marketers look at this as an extension of offline media -- print and television. Sadly, they tend to use it the same way.

Web 2.0 (the social Web) is a little less "ad friendly." Social networking, live chat, folksonomies, mash-ups, virtual worlds, even mobile are part of 2.0. It's about people communicating, contributing, collaborating. Results come from the wisdom of crowds -- for better or worse. This collaboration and sharing break down the traditional media model, and marketers lose control of their brands, even while they gain powerful new ways to engage their audience. (Type your brand's name into Topsy, the Twitter search engine, to get a little taste of market reality.)

Web 3.0 (the semantic Web) derives its "wisdom" from software that learns by looking at online content, analyzes the popularity of that content and draws conclusions. Instead of people refining information and opinion, intelligent software would do the same thing.

The key is that information is presented and labeled so it makes sense to machines. This means Web content needs to be presented in a language that software can understand; programming languages such as OWL and SWRL that can be "read" by software. The more Web content written in these languages, the more effective the software will be gathering information and making recommendations for users.

The TiVo model helps to understand how Web 3.0 might work. Express interest in, say, George Clooney, and TiVo's "agent" searches for and records any of his movies airing on TV. But it also finds and records content related to Clooney, such as films he directed or produced, reruns of ER, The Facts of Life and other credited work, interviews and gossip items about him, even the "Tears of a Clooney" episode of American Dad that mocked his persona. Now substitute your brand for "Clooney" and "the entire Web" for "TV," and you get some idea of Web 3.0's potential reach.

Today, search engines gather and classify their listings through a simpler version of "intelligent" software. For marketers to understand how they might operate in a Web 3.0 world, they should look to their current organic search programs and what's needed to do well with conventional search engines.

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