My presentation on marketing in the semantic web attracted a packed room, and feedback — from both technical and business attendees — was incredibly positive. But it was the sum of the rest of the conference that really inspired me to conclude:
The semantic web — or web of data, web 3.0 if you prefer — is inevitable.
Now, I’ve been an advocate of the semantic web, and particularly how it might impact the marketing department (“semantic marketing“), for a while. But I tempered my enthusiasm with reservations about how and when it would come to be. After 20 years working in disruptive technology businesses, one develops a certain pragmatism about the “breakthroughs” that never quite break through.
But now I’m throwing off my skeptic’s cloak.
Enough of the technical standards are in place, with enough consensus across academia and business, to serve as a stable foundation. Sure, there will be tweaks, refinements, enhancements. But the core of this technology has enough critical mass and momentum behind it to provide a solid, standardized base upon which the next round of innovation can be built.
It’s analogous to the shift that happened in the original web once browsers and web servers reached agreement on things like secure SSL connections, cookies, etc., where the web sprang from being an interesting technology experiment into a full-throttle, commercialized Zeitgeist that hasn’t slowed down since.
But having a technology mature into useable adolescence is merely a necessary but not sufficient requirement to guarantee a worldwide revolution.
The real reason why the semantic web is inevitable at this point is because the business potential of a web of data — inside the enterprise and out in the public web — is becoming obvious and immense.
Businesses are data-driven. They have been ever since the rise of IT. But that has become a curse, as the far majority of raw data wastes away in silos — unanalyzed, unintegrated, and never refined into valuable, actionable intelligence. The semantic web can take these stagnant pools of data and connect them into streams, rivers, and oceans — from across the enterprise or around the world — in ways that people can harness on demand to answer quantifiable or complex data-driven questions and to construct a new generation of automated and “intelligent” software agents that can reason reasonably well.
This will juice operations and IT — who are already some of the early adopters of semantic web technologies to accomplish their existing needs with less overhead. And there’s a synergy between data web standards and the movement toward cloud computing and on-demand infrastructure and applications — they each make the other more valuable and practical, a nice virtuous cycle. That alone could justify widespread adoption.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The big enchilada is the potential this has for marketing — and I mean marketing in the broadest sense possible. Creating better customer experiences. Bonding more tightly with your market. Becoming a big, branded authority in the domain you seek to own.
Because your customers’ businesses are data-driven too, and through the semantic web, you can supply them with data that can be highly beneficial to their operations — connecting their businesses up to your intravenous drip of miracle data goodness. You help them perform better by giving them a piece of the puzzle that you’re uniquely suited to provide. They then mash-up their own special blend of their data, your data, and other people’s data to achieve a whole new level of automation and intelligence in their world.
The marketers who deliver that to their audience will be golden — and that is the vision of data web marketing.
If you ever wished you had been at the forefront of the web, in the mid-90′s when pioneers shaped the landscape of e-commerce and online marketing for everyone else who followed, now is your chance. While the web of data will share many similarities with the regular web — indeed, the two will essentially merge into one continuous whole — it is also virgin territory. No one has ever used data web marketing as a competitive advantage before. Who will take the lead in your space? Who will claim first mover advantage? Who will grab the glory and the market share?
The sands in the hourglass are now running. The excitement of people who see this potential is palpable and infectious. And, as we’ve all become attuned to the quickening tempo by which web innovations are embraced and exploited, the incentives are there to act.
The semantic web isn’t just inevitable. It is imminent.