Web 2.0 vs Web 3.0 buzz - Image credit: Max Kalehoff
In Markoff's eyes the new game in content is to push out concierge-like services that analyze Web content to discern much deeper patterns of meaning and more intuitive results for answer-seekers. It's all pretty true stuff, but it's also stuff that's been under development for a long, long time - and is not likely to provide quick payoffs any time soon.
In the meantime publishing-empowered users are organizing content themselves and coming up with some pretty compelling insights of their own.
A yam is a sweet tuber, a tasty treat that goes down easy and fills you up nicely, but it doesn't take long for them to lose their appeal at a Thanksgiving dinner or other feasts. They're quickly scraped into the trash bin and forgotten.
From time to time pundits will coin buzzwords - "memes" to some - that get people excited about ideas in a packageable way like yams, easy to prepare goodies that are greedily consumed for a brief while but quickly dumped when they fail to satisfy.
John Markoff's recent article for The New York Times seems to have given broad life to the term "Web 3.0," a supposedly new trend towards sophisticated content analytics. It's a candidate to become Yet Another Meme - a yam - that is likely to stick to our ribs for a while but fade away quickly. Just as the "Web 2.0" meme was very fuzzy and disintegrated into a recognition that social publishing was more about the degree to which existing read/write publishing technologies were being applied rather than a truly new phenomenon, the Web 3.0 concept threatens to excite us at the very time that it is getting ready to be pushed aside.
Markoff points out some very important trends in content derived from work on text and data mining technologies that are creating value-add services in many venues. But Web analytics via text and data mining have been an active component on the Web for years.
From Amazon's automated book recommendations to Factiva's early forays into reputation management analysis to BuzzLogic's emerging tools that divine the real influencers of opinion in social media outlets content providers have been recognizing the value of online content analysis services since the beginning of electronic publishing.
The big change in analytics is that they are succeeding with content packaged in more raw forms.
Instead of waiting for Tim Berners-Lee's Semantic Web to get perfectly formed Web content established for divining broad content patterns, text and data mining technologies are repackaging less-than-perfect sources to see what can be made of them.
The results are not always great but with a broad enough base of information to digest they can be compelling.
Yet the real important part of this trend towards sophisticated content analytics is not the machines but the people whose authoring is fueling their analysis.
Social media is adding a new level of impromptu organization and insight to Web-based content that is accelerating the ability of analysis tools to figure out what's important and worthwhile in content sources.
Instead of the Semantic Web we're experiencing the Self-Organizing Web, content that's structured through millions of individual contributors and editors to form a rapidly shifting picture of what's relevant.
Automated analytics mining the human intelligence that's organized the world's content will continue to provide significant value-add opportunities, but the core of real change in publishing will continue to rest on the development of individual publishers being empowered as subject matter experts and content analysts.
The machines will make a difference, but the human mind will make more of a difference - for now.
Here are a few things to think about in relation to Web 3.0 and the Self-Organizing Web:
Automated content analytics and services are forming one end of a barbell-shaped content economy, with the other end formed from users empowered by publishing and analytic tools to create even more valuable insights that can drive profits. In the middle are the raw materials of publishing, the infrastructure and editorial materials that need either automated or human-provided context to give them a high-value audience. Be it with the machines or with your audience, the value in publishing needs to move towards empowering analysis and value-add functions and away from mere distribution.
Some of the Web 3.0 appeal comes from its emphasis on powerful central computing creating insights from raw materials - the old "information factory" model in a new form. It's still a valid model, but in the meantime a world of networked individuals is creating its own set of conclusions at the far end of those network connections - with our without those factories. The real potential for Web analytics is to be able to have multiple points of analysis coalescing in a networked fashion to create distributed insights - worldwide "aha"s that may be somewhat different for each person in the Self-Organizing Web.
It's still very early. If you're thinking that there is going to be a Web 3.0 stampede the way that the Web 2.0 yam took off, think again. The semantic processing technologies that underlie many of these emerging tools are still very young, requiring huge amounts of content in many instances to come to any sort of intelligent conclusion about anything. There are smart people working on content analytics, but so far the machines cranking them out are still pretty dumb compared to the people using them. Expect some amazing breakthrough services in the years ahead, but they will only be as good as the content being fed into them. They won't be thinking for themselves for a long time.
It's great that analysis tools are getting recognized by the mainstream media as an important factor in electronic publishing, but don't mistake the foothills of their development for soaring peaks.
The payoffs for analytics require very long-term missions and patient investors - not the quick "crank out a portal and flip it" game plan that many have in mind with Web content.
Many efforts to develop intelligent analytics will fall to the sidelines because they were conceived of as a technology product rather than as a well-conceived content product.
In the meantime Content Nation is cranking out lots of great analysis on its own, waiting to be mined by "Web 3.0" tools. Happy Thanksgiving - enjoy the yams!
Originally published by John Blossom as "Yet Another Meme: The Web 3.0 Label Highlights Self-Organizing Content" on November 14 2006.
Find out more about John Blossom and the management consulting services of Shore Communications Inc. covering enterprise, media and personal publishing at Shore.com.John Blossom -