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Facebook is poised to dominate the next iteration of the web (commonly referred to as web 3.0 or the semantic web) in the same way, and for the same reasons that Google dominated web 2.0.

How did we get here?

Web 1.0 was dominated by portals and rudimentary search engines. We intrepid netizens found things on the web as they were actually cataloged by humans. Think about the Open Directory Project as an example, or the basic Yahoo directory. We “drilled in” manually in order to find things. This method of finding content lived alongside the very rudimentary search engines of the day, primarily because the quality of recommendations from those engines was pretty poor and easily manipulated.

Google’s arrival on the scene marked (for me at least) a dramatic shift in what mattered on the web. By relying so heavily on citations and links, Google was able to recommend content that was trusted or viewed as authoritative by others on the web, increasing reliability of search results. Obviously, this makes it easier to find what we are looking for (to a point) when compared to what came before.

Over the last 10 years or so, Google’s reliance on the importance of links has helped literally create a “link economy” on the web. Who links to you matters. Since the importance of links became widely known, there has been a years-long struggle between web site owners who try to acquire links and Google who tries to weed out or punish those who acquire links that do not flow only from the quality of a site’s content.

The next big thing – the semantic web

The idea of the semantic web has been around for quite a few years. Many have coined it web 3.0 or view it as a large sub-component of web 3.0. In short, the semantic web is a web of data.

There was 5 exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that much information is now created every 2 days, and the pace is increasing…People aren’t ready for the technology revolution that’s going to happen to them. – Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, August 4, 2010

The substance of this quote is subject to debate. Whether or not it is factually correct, it is certainly directionally correct. We are producing MUCH more data today than we ever did before as a species – Sean McGinnis

Imagine all the data that is buried (or assumed) just beneath the current version of what we experience as “the internet.” To be sure, we are producing content at an amazing rate. Some of that content is amazing; creative; awesome. A fair amount of that content is pedantic; boring; repetitive.

What’s missing from a lot of that content is context.

We are headed towards a web of context – where the ability to not just find something, but to place it in a world where a deeper understanding and meaning is present will dominate how and what we do online.

What is your context?

I spoke a good deal about this in my presentation on Search and Social at Social Media Masters Kansas City. As search and social begin to merge and influence each other, there is a lot more at stake than simply better search results. That’s the first step to be sure. But this is more of a fundamental re-thinking of the web and it involves a lot of moving parts.

Indulge me for a minute and think through a simple exercise. I ask you to think about all the “labels” that might apply to you as a person. The groups you’ve belonged to. The cities where you’ve lived. The jobs you’ve help. The companies where you worked. The schools and churches you’ve attended. Write down your list. Be sure to think about those labels that have applied to you at different stages of your life, and not just today. Go ahead, and give it a try, It will only take you 5 minutes or so to come up with a pretty darn impressive list.

Here’s my list, created in a 15 minute time span in June of last year… I pulled these slides from a couple of presentations I did last year on search and social.

If you imagine all the ways you use the internet, you can see all the data you generate. But that data is pretty easily defined and captured by current technology. What’s missing is the definition of the relationship between those two data points. Click through the following seven slides to get a better understanding of what I mean.

Facebook is defining the relationships between data points

Facebook took the first step toward defining the semantic web in April 2010 by announcing the like button would be available for 3rd party sites. Developers and publishers gobbled it up with over 350,000 sites installing the button by September that year.

The Like button was just the start.

As expected, Facebook is in the process of opening up those definitions to third party developers and brands. Facebook has been working with a few select partners on “Facebook Actions” and just announced at a private event this week that a gaggle of new partners have signed onto the project.

All your actionz r belong to us?Facebook Actions takes the concept of the like button and opens it up for the creation of new meanings. In other words, Facebook is allowing and encouraging developers to create their own labels between data points. Did you just buy a new pair of shoes? Go to the brand’s Facebook page, select the product and click the own button.

Peering into the crystal ball

I really wish I had a neat conclusion to wrap this post up with a tidy bow. A series of recommendations or a prediction for the future. The truth is I have no idea where all this is heading or who will win.

But the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Google has a market cap of $206 Billion. Facebook is set to be the largest IPO in the history of just about ever. And he who controls the dialogue, the infrastructure of what the internet will become will be the company in control of the next decade or more. In the same way that Google has defined the internet for the last 10 years, Facebook is poised to do the same for the next 10.

Google Plus LogoDon’t get me wrong. Google has a HUGE stake in this development, and Google+ is a valiant competitor. But Facebook is making all the right moves (with the exception of the privacy question).

Google is making a play for social in an effort to maintain their search relevancy. Meanwhile, Facebook is slowly, methodically, creating the things that may literally come to define the internet over the next 10-20 years. To be fair, the reason Facebook has the luxury to think ahead is because they dominate in platform adoption. 800 million users gives massive scale to any new initiative of this sort and these new features allow for massive and immediate adoption (see the like button example above).

Personalized Advertising – The Quest To Be God

The pathway to the dollars intrigues me, not the number of dollars.

The Google search engine isn’t really about search. It’s about recommendations and ads.

Google has solved a massive issue (how to find what you need on the internet) and allows you to use that solution for free in exchange for them serving you ads. Google is not a search company, they are a permission marketing/advertising platform. You give Google permission to serve ads next to your search results, because that search engine solves a problem for you.

Taking that into account, the perfect world for Google is not necessarily more ad revenue through more search results.

I’ve argued before that the perfect world for Google is more targeted ads. More personalized ads. Ads that you would actually like to see. Ads you would find relevant.

I’m not looking for 1,467,000 search results. I’m looking for ONE!

Michaelangelos-creation-of-Adam

With the strong influence of social signals on the Google algorithm, we are closer than ever to a much more personalized and custom tailored search result that truly answers my question, but it will only get us so far. You may be “friends” and even interact with a close knit group of people on Facebook or Twitter (or gasp, even Google+) but are you really likely to want what they want, like what they like? Do you all use the same brands? Do you value the same things in a product or service? Not very likely.

I think the semantic web of the next 10-20 years has immense potential to get us closer and closer to that ideal. By discovering what I read, what I write, who I’m connected with, what I tend to share and more, there is a greater chance we will see profiling technologies unfolding that can genuinely predict the brands, value propositions and ad types I would respond to.

What if we get there? What if you never looked at another ad and asked yourself “why is this here now?”

I can’t wait to find out…

Related stuff

I highly recommend this short video documentary by Kate Ray on Web 3.0. This is the thing that captured my attention and got me thinking about where we were headed and who the players might be. It’s just under 15 minutes long.

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Sean McGinnis

Director, Digital Marketing at Sears Parts Direct
Sean McGinnis is Director, Digital Marketing at Sears Parts Direct. He is also a (digital strategist, blogger, consultant ) and public speaker. You can find Sean on