Power of Metadata to enable Business Transformation
I’m currently reading a business-oriented book on the power of the Semantic Web to enable new business models called Pull, the Power of the Semantic Web to Transform you Business, by David Siegel, and published December 2009.
I’ve read several excellent technology-focused books on the Semantic Web, including Semantic Web Programming and Programming the Semantic Web. But this is the first book I’ve seen that specifically looks at the Semantic Web, and structured Metadata, from the vantage point of enabling Business Transformation and the development of new Business Models.
BTW, David Siegel recently delivered the keynote at SemTech 2010.
Metadata enables Smart Objects
I’m currently about 30 pages into the 250-ish page book, but several key messages have already been presented. And the one that most immediately grabbed my attention is the notion of “smart objects” [BTW, Siegel doesn’t explicitly use this term (at least he hasn’t thusfar in the book), but it is a notion that underlies much of this message.]
The key idea here is that objects – products and content – have a unique ID, and associated metadata, such they effectively “know about themselves”. They know what their meaning is and how to describe themselves, they know where they’ve been, they know what state they are in, and so forth. Obviously, these are not exactly the objects as we encounter them in the everyday world. Rather, we are speaking about an electronic representation of the object, that has some smarts associated with it.
In the first 2 chapter, Siegel provides several examples in the Shipping and Retail industries. In the shipping industry, he talks about smart “packages”. Quoting Siegel:
Using a new universal tracking number and open standards for messaging creates package-level autonomy: the package itself will send a message to the customer to make sure he or she is there to receive it.
The basic idea here is that an electronic representation exists of a package, that is basically “smart”. It knows about itself, and it can respond to events that are of interest to it. As well, the “vocabulary” that describes the data and events associated with packages are formalized as an industry standard, so that packages can easily cross process boundaries between different companies in the industry, that operate in different parts of the supply chain. This is the “package-level autonomy” that Siegel mentions above.
Another example is “smart products” in Retail. Here, Siegel provides examples of a Smart Cart and Smart Products. The Smart Cart knows what products you’ve put into it, and can take actions on the items currently in the cart – whether its adding up the total, applying coupons, or providing information at checkout.
Smart Products are tagged with bar codes and RFID codes as universal identifiers and tracking tags, whereby scanning these tags can provide product description information, competitive pricing information, and can be used to track the transport of product across various stages of its production and delivery lifecycle.
Smart Containers manage and leverage Smart Objects
It’s not, however, just the objects themselves that are smart. It is also the “containers” of these objects – whether the container is a Shopping Cart, a Shipment, Carton of items, a Palette of goods, or a Truck. Smart Containers know precisely the nature of the goods or products they contain, and what state they are in.
Applying the “Smart Object” concept to the Media Industry
Can these concepts be applied to the media industry? I think they can. The media industry has its own version of objects and containers of those objects. Our objects are most importantly Content – Articles, Photos, Videos, etc, and the discussions and conversations around that content. Our packages are the containers for this content – Publications, Websites, Web pages, and Stories that aggregate multiple types of content.
So, like the smart objects above, our objects – our Content – needs to be “smart” or “intelligent”. It needs to know about itself, it needs to be self-describing. And our “containers” and media products need to be able to take advantage of that intelligence – to understand what content is most relevant to our audiences, and make sure that content is available and discoverable by our users when they want it, where they want it, and in the form they want to consume it.
On the web, of course, one of the most important rationales for “smart content” is to make it easily discoverable by Search Engines – SEO-friendly, as they say. In this sense, a Search Results page is like a “dynamic container” that is constructed on-the-fly according to a Query that specifies relevance criteria (metadata) that express the intention of a user/consumer (machine or human) at that particular moment.
We also need to be able to learn from the behavior and media consumption patters of our users. To “learn” from their behavior, and calibrate our content delivery to their preferences and behaviors.
Well that’s it really. Just wanted to:
- Introduce the notion of “smart” or “intelligent” objects and containers, powered by metadata
- Suggest the power of these intelligent objects to transform existing, and enable new, business models, and
- Suggest that the Media industries have their own versions of smart objects and containers – their content, and the platforms, products, and delivery channels that showcase their content.