As I write this, I am nearly finished with the best and most challenging book that I have read in years. The book is Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business by David Siegel. I couldn’t wait to finish it before posting about it.
What is the semantic web?
You may not be familiar with the semantic web. Six months ago, I sure wasn’t. So let’s get the definition out of the way. According to Wikipedia, it is
an evolving development of the World Wide Web in which the meaning (semantics) of information and services on the web is defined, making it possible for the web to “understand” and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web content. It derives from World Wide Web Consortium director Sir Tim Berners-Lee‘s vision of the Web as a universal medium for data, information, and knowledge exchange.
Some have referred to the semantic web as Web 3.0.
While perhaps a decade away by some estimates, such as a recent report by Pew Research, thousands of people are working right now on making it a reality.
The industries and examples covered in Siegel’s book run the gamut. Relatively recent ones such as search will be transformed, as will more established ones such as the law. Consider the latter for a moment. With the semantic web and personal data lockers, contracts may be automatically updated when one or more parties changes states. For example, let’s say that I have an agreement to sell oranges to a supermarket in New York City. I decided to take my business to Ohio and, as a result, my contract will tell me if I need to apply for different licenses. (Yes, you read right.) Paperwork will be filed automatically with the appropriate agencies in my new state. Any work required by lawyers will involve actual legal interpretation and analysis, not administrative activities for which I’m being grossly overcharged.
Sound far-fetched? Perhaps. But it’s coming and it’s going to change the web as we know it, not to mention how we work and live.
Siegel also cites the failure of many “knowledge management” systems. Most were, at best, ultimately incomplete for one simple reason: they depended upon typically overworked people entering updates and information into them. That’s hardly a recipe for success.
The solution is the concept of an ontology, something enabled by the semantic web. At a high level, an ontology automates the learning process for systems, allowing for a comprehensive and commonly understood set of assumptions, facts, and descriptions. This obviates the need for anyone to manually update projects and repositories of information. Using ontologies takes care of that for us.
How does all of this fit in with Enterprise 2.0? What do cloud computing, SaaS, social media, and the like have to do with the semantic web?
Long story short: Enterprise 2.0 technologies will free people and organizations from the shackles of often less-than-valuable activities. Let’s say that an organization begins using a cloud or SaaS provider for its applications, freeing it from the burden of maintaining them. For example, let’s say that application patches and upgrades are now handled by Amazon’s cloud offering. The cost savings allow that organization to hire employees–or redeploy existing ones–to take on tasks essential to the development of the business. The amount of time requird for system maintenance should drop.
Imagine if a company (call it Acme) transformed its applicant tracking systems to embrace the hresume microformat. Rather than relying on simple and often ineffective keyword searches to find applicants who may or may not meet their needs, recruiters hiring managers would be automatically alerted when much more qualified applicants announce their availability to the world. What’s more, that information is automatically and accurately imported into Acme’s systems, allowing for future matches based on changing business needs.
The semantic web is going to be a game changer. We’ll have to go through Web 2.0 to get to Web 3.0 first. Stay tuned.
Of course, that’s just my opinion. What do you think?