24 Jun 2012
I’ve written before on this site about the vast implications of the forthcoming semantic web. In short, it will be a game-changer–but it certainly won’t happen anytime soon. Every day, though, I hear about organizations taking one more step in that direction. Case in point: A few days ago, Harvard announced that it was “making public the information on more than 12 million books, videos, audio recordings, images, manuscripts, maps, and more things inside its 73 libraries.” From the piece:
Harvard can’t put the actual content of much of this material online, owing to intellectual property laws, but this so-called metadata of things like titles, publication or recording dates, book sizes or descriptions of what is in videos is also considered highly valuable. Frequently descriptors of things like audio recordings are more valuable for search engines than the material itself. Search engines frequently rely on metadata over content, particularly when it cannot easily be scanned and understood.
This might not seem like a terribly big deal to the average person. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have given this announcement much thought. But think for a moment about the ramifications of such a move. After all, Harvard is a prominent institution and others will no doubt follow its lead here. More metadata from schools, publishers, record companies, music labels, and businesses mean that the web will become smarter–much smarter. Search will continue to evolve in ways that relatively few of us appreciate or think about.
And let’s not forget about data mining and business intelligence. Forget about knowing more about who buys which books, although this is of enormous importance. (Ask Jeff Bezos.) Think about knowing whythese books or CDs or movies sell–or, perhaps more important, don’t sell. Consider the following questions and answers:
- Are historical novels too long for the “average” reader? We’ll come closer to knowing because metadata includes page and word counts.
- Which book designs result in more conversions? Are there specific fonts that readers find more appealing than others?
- Are certain keywords registering more with a niche group of readers? We’ll know because tools will allow us to perform content and sentiment analysis.
- Which authors’ books resonate with which readers? Executives at companies like Amazon and Apple must be frothing at the mouth here.
- Which customers considered buying a book but ultimately did not? Why did they opt not to click the buy button?
I could go on but you get my drift. Metadata and the semantic web collectively mean that no longer will we have to look at a single book sale as a discrete event. We’ll be able to know so much more about who buys what and why. Ditto cars, MP3s, jelly beans, DVDs, and just about any other product out there.
In the next ten years, we still may not be able to answer every commerce-related question–or any question in its entirety. However, a more semantic web means that a significant portion of the mystery behind the purchase will be revealed. Every day, we get a little closer to a better, more semantic web.
What say you?