There’s a revolution brewing on the Internet, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a retailer or a restaurant owner, a service provider or a professional, a hard-goods merchant or an information marketer, or anything and everything in between. If you work for or own a business, this WILL affect you.
I’m talking about Web 3.0 – The Semantic Web.
Now I know what you may be thinking…
“Wait a minute! I’m just getting up to speed on Web 2.0. You know, social networking, the read/write Web, the two-way Web, all that stuff… whatever you want to call it. I’m not ready for Web 3.0 yet!”
Well, yes. You definitely should be getting up to speed on Web 2.0. And we’ll be covering that important topic more right here in Early to Rise in the coming weeks and months. We’ll be explaining how to detect and avoid the myths… and how you can profit from the real opportunities.
But I believe what’s coming in Web 3.0 is going to be even more exciting… and potentially much more profitable for you or your company.
The best news is that you can start actively preparing for Web 3.0 right now. You can make some very quick, cheap, and easy Web 3.0-oriented changes to your online presence almost immediately. They could have a much faster and greater ROI (return on investment) than many Web 2.0 techniques. Plus, you’ll be getting a big jump on 99 percent of your competitors. In fact, you can start leaving them in the dust today.
Sound interesting? Okay, then let’s get going!
First, let me take you back in time for a moment. A quick “history lesson” will make it easy for you to understand the foundation of Web 3.0…
Back in 1983, I was a systems analyst at Reuters Ltd., the international news and financial information provider. Our primary business was assembling and selling electronic feeds of stock market information. This included raw market information (buy/sell prices, volume, etc.) sent to us from over 100 exchanges around the globe.
Now 1983 was six years before the debut of the World Wide Web, and so our subscribers (typically major brokerage houses and exchange trading floors) received our real-time feed over a private network (phone or satellite). The information was then displayed on custom-made CRT terminals that were basically dumbed-down TV screens. No graphics, no windows, just plain text. A typical ticker feed of information might look something like this:
IBM 43.50 +0.25 8,235… PMI 72.25 -1.75 1,525…
(You’ve probably seen a similar display in New York ‘s Times Square or on CNBC’s “crawl.”)
Our subscribers quickly trained themselves to understand that this meant, for example, that 8,235 shares of IBM had just been sold at $43.50, 25 cents higher than the previous trade. And that Philip Morris International had traded at $72.25, down $1.75, volume 1,525 shares.
Now stick with me here, because you’re about to find out the SINGLE most important key to understanding Web 3.0.
Though it was easy for our subscribers to look at that “raw text” and know what every item (“field”) meant, everything changed with the introduction of the IBM PC in 1985. Suddenly, a new, powerful analytical tool was sitting on millions of desktops. And instead of traders processing that cryptic stream of characters themselves, they wanted their computers to do it. For graphing, importing to spreadsheets, advanced analysis, etc.
But getting a computer to “understand” the text was a whole different matter.
Computers can scan documents and try to “guess” at which info is significant – a process sometimes called “scraping.” But we knew that our subscribers’ computer programs would work with much more precision if we actually TOLD the computer with absolute certainty what each field represented (symbol, price, volume, etc.) and then gave it the related value. In other words, we didn’t want the computers to have to scrape for the data they needed. So we developed a new information feed that included “tags” for each information item as it came across.
Here’s how it worked in a nutshell…
When a subscriber’s PC started up, we’d send it a table of relationships (tags), something like this:
|Field Code||Data Represented|
|3||Last Trade Price|
Next, we coded the real-time stock market stream so that each value (price, volume, etc.) coming down the line was unambiguously tied to its field code.
So instead of the feed looking like this:
IBM 43.50 +0.25 8,235… PMI 72.25 -1.75 1,525…
It now looked like this, with tags (field code) and values coming in together in pairs:
This was huge! Instead of sending raw and somewhat random TEXT, we were now sending precisely defined DATA. (Hint: Another name for Web 3.0 is “The Data Web.”)
We could now transmit much more useful related information, with higher resolution and complete certainty. For example, yesterday’s closing price… number of block (high-volume) trades today… dividends paid… and literally hundreds of other important numbers. We’d simply create new Field IDs for each datum and send them to the PC at start-up.
When the PC began receiving the data stream, it would recognize exactly when these fields appeared and what the corresponding data meant. Analysis programs or spreadsheets could then manipulate the data as our subscribers desired, and add tremendous value to what we were giving them.
Are you with me so far? Good, because now you’re going to see what this means for you and your business… even if you own a pizzeria!
You see, our team had created logic from chaos for that stock exchange feed. But when the World Wide Web came along, no one was there to do the same. No one “owned” or “managed” the Web’s content. And so, until now, it’s largely been just like that old stock market text stream before any individual items had been tagged.
Just one gigantic Tower of Babel.
Web 3.0 aims to change that. It aims to transform much of the key TEXT information on the Web – the stuff that people really want and need access to (but often can’t locate) – into a highly structured and interconnected Web of easily reachable DATA.
Initial structures are focusing on very specific information that is commonly of interest to Web users. Already defined are…
- A formal structure for specifying CONTACT information for people, places, and organizations…
- A formal structure for specifying date-based EVENTS…
- A formal structure for specifying CLASSIFIED ADS (think CraigsList)…
- A formal structure for specifying recommendations and REVIEWS (of anything – music, books, products, etc.)…
- A formal structure for specifying RELATIONSHIPS between people (think Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)…
- A formal structure for specifying SYNDICATION of content.
Many more will follow.
So that’s some of the background and a bit of the theory.
Now, let’s take a quick look at a very simple website example – and how, with a few easy steps, we could prepare it for Web 3.0.
Let’s say you own a local pizzeria, and you’ve got your little website out on the Internet. The home page looks something like this:
Gregory’s House of Pizza
Open Daily Noon to 10PM
2006 Power Drive, Venice
802 555 1212
Come to Fifth Anniversary Party for Free Slice of Pizza – April 28th.
“Great Pie, Just like I had in New York ” – J.K.
“Best Pizza in California ” – M.D.
Your site has a decent amount of useful information – all easily understood by most people. But your human customers have to find your page first. And they’d most likely look for it via one of the major search engines.
So Google and Yahoo have to “scrape” your Web page and make some guesses…
- They GUESS that Gregory’s House of Pizza is a restaurant, not the TV show “House” whose lead character is named Gregory House…
- They GUESS 2006 Power Drive is an address, not an automobile feature…
- They GUESS the location is Venice, CA, not Venice, Italy…
- They GUESS this series of digits (802 555 1212) is the phone number.
And then, when your site appears in the search results, the Web user still has some work to do.
Let’s say he’s new in town, and wants to load information for the top local pizzerias into his PDA or computer.
To save the information about your business in his Contacts List, he’s got to cut and paste your information manually or enter it by hand.
If he wants to go to your special anniversary party, he’s got to manually enter it into his Calendar.
If he wants to see a map and get directions, he’s got to hope Google or Yahoo guessed your location correctly.
Lots of room all around for errors, inconvenience, and just plain “the hell with it”… right?
But suppose there was a better way to get your company’s information to Google, Yahoo, and the Web user himself? And that it was easy to do and 100 percent correct?
Suppose your customers could have easy access to your information through specific, unambiguous tags for…
- Your Contact Information – so that, with the click of a mouse, a visitor to your Web page could instantly import it into his PDA/Computer Contacts List, with all fields uniquely specified…
- Your Events – so that, with the click of a mouse, a visitor to your Web page could import the date/time into his personal Calendar…
- Reviews submitted by your customers – so that Web spiders could help build recommendation and review sites and include your information in a common format (number of stars, date reviewed, comments). Keep in mind that consumer recommendations are one of the foundations of Web 2.0.
Well the good news is that your site can to some extent leapfrog Web 2.0 – and have these Web 3.0 features… as soon as today!
It’s really quite simple, thanks to new “hidden” structures called Microformats that you or your Web programmer can add to your existing Web pages.
Most visitors won’t even know they are there – yet. But once they are in place, a lot of interesting things start happening.
For example, Yahoo recently announced search engine and results listings support for Microformats. Here’s an example from Yahoo of a pre-Microformat restaurant search result listing:
And here’s an example of one where the restaurant website added Microformats:
See how much more useful this can be to someone searching for your business on the Web?
Google, of course, is coming on board as well.
This means your humble little website could start receiving a more prominent search results position as soon as you add Microformats to it.
In the near future, your Web browser will be able to detect websites that have Microformatted data. And with a mouse click, you’ll be able to save that phone number, that address, that event date right into your Contact or Time Management program.
(Microformat detection and data export is actually available now as an add-on to Firefox, and will be built in to the upcoming Internet Explorer 8 release.)
And Microformats are just the first step. Related technologies such as RDFa (resource description framework) are not far behind.
This is a glimpse into the future of the Web. It’s almost like there’s a new, improved “phonebook” being built to index every business in the world – and you have a chance to get listed early! Because you can jump into this exciting future trend right now with a fairly small amount of work.
Yes, there are still plenty of questions and lots more to explain about Web 3.0. As you can imagine, I simplified and summarized a great deal today.
So in upcoming articles, I’ll step back and explain how and when we can look for Web 3.0 to hit the “mainstream.” After all, none of this matters unless there are compelling reasons for consumers to adopt it. Is high resolution Search and Search Results really going to be the “killer app” that lights the Web 3.0 fuse? Or something else?
We’ll talk about both bottom-up and top-down approaches for building Web 3.0-enabled content (including some nifty new stuff from my old friends at Reuters).
We’ll drill down a bit into specifics, and I’ll show you a live example of an Early to Rise page with working Microformats on it, and give you every detail you need to create one yourself in just a few minutes’ time. ( For a preview, see my blog post here.)
And you’re sure to be hearing from our SEO experts, Alexis Siemon and Rick Maggio, on how you can leverage this technology to the maximum extent possible going forward.
The Data Web – Web 3.0 – is coming.
Keep reading ETR, and we’ll show you why, and how, to get there.[Ed. Note: Charlie Byrne is Associate Publisher of Early to Rise. If you have any questions or comments on this article, or what Web 3.0 topics you’d like to see covered in the future, please leave a comment on his Blog.]