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Book Review: Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business by David Siegel

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Pack your personal data locker.  We're about to leave for camp.  Some fear it will be the kind of camp where Jason shows up to hack into their identities. For others, it looks like a posh resort where wants and needs are fulfilled automatically, often before they are conscious desires. Reality, of course, will lie somewhere along a continuum from heaven to hell, and possibly in the Twilight Zone.

David Siegel explains that your online locker will be filled with bits of the semantic web: clear, unambiguous words and numbers in standardized formats, commonly called "metadata." Presently, it's scattered all over the Internet in multiple and redundant data silos. Don't let the computer terms scare you away. He uses only necessary ones and explains them well. This is disambiguation at its best. His vision of the future, 10, 20, 30 years from now, is densely packed with enough material for several books. He includes references to groups already demonstrating or working on the "pull" economy. ThePowerOfPull.com website website will contain the links he lists, enabling readers to research and follow our progression into the future.

His vision places so much online that it almost fulfills authors' wishes to send thoughts directly into computers to produce books. And it all begins with that "personal data locker" not mentioned until Chapter 8: Passive Commerce, 100 pages into Pull. The focus until then is on businesses, but the center of businesses is customers, not profit, in the pull economy. Individual people comprise customers, each with unique characteristics, preferences and needs, even when they congregate into another business or organization.

Pull suggests what's to come through concrete examples of:

  • Which industries are already ahead.
  • Which industries are already dead.
  • How to make the power shift from pushing to pulling information.
  • How software, hardware, media and marketing will all change.
  • How to plan your own strategy for embracing the semantic web.

Future businesses will need access to all pertinent information about customers.  How much more efficient would it be if that data were stored in one place, under the control of its owner?

"But, but, someone might use that against me!" a horrified woman in a Starbucks said after listening to a brief description of Pull. "You hear about hackers breaking into this and that database every day!"  She has a good point, one Siegel somewhat glosses over. He theorizes that we are safer with all our data aggregated, but without explaining how or why. 

"I believe that putting everything into a single data locker will be more secure, not less. Keep in mind that you'll have layers of privacy in your data locker, and you can put as many passwords and restrictions as you like on each one.  You'll control who sees what, and you'll restrict anyone's access anytime you like."

Another troubling aspect of this more efficient and effective future is the unemployment that inevitably results from streamlining any industry or business.  Indeed, this threat could be a major drag on momentum toward Web 3.0 (the semantic web).  Siegel promises more jobs will be created, ones like "tagging," a task that a well-equipped, bright quadriplegic could do.  Maybe.  Here's what he says:

"The world's metadata will need a lot of tagging.  Anyone with a mobile phone and a little training can improve metadata all day, even from a wheelchair or a goat pasture, and get paid for it."

Tagging is a critical aspect of the semantic web.  Most of us are familiar with tagging as a way to search the web with keywords, highlight blog posts, indicate categories for filing and sorting images and advertising our interests in social media (Web 2.0). Power tagging is Siegel's term for "recording real-time facts and events from the real world, using common formats and vocabularies … that mean the same thing to all systems."  He discusses power tagging directly in a chapter on medicine, doctors and patients, possibly the scariest semantic web scenario, especially for the elderly, who interact with it the most.  They may learn just how dangerous their current situations are or have their worst fears confirmed about their health care now.

Health care systems are just one of the several Siegel cites as examples of industries either needing or developing "pull" business models.  In these customer-centric designs, all that tagging and personal metadata will pull to us goods, services, and information, rather than businesses constantly pushing their products at us.  Isn't that what we call advertising?  Pushing products?

Imagine yourself the center of your device mesh (every electronic gizmo you own from your cell phone and digital camera to a media room with touch display walls), master of your own fate, yet connected to everybody else. 

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world…

And the world will live as one. ~ John Lennon

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About Georganna Hancock

Retired San Diego publisher, journalist, freelance editor and writer, blogged almost daily for eight years at A WRITERS EDGE. She helped writers on the path to writing success with critiques, edits and publishing advice. Find her author page on Amazon and her tweets on Twitter, where she's aka @GLHancock. Georganna's first writing appeared in print in the 1960s. She worked as a journalist for many years. She reviewed books for the FORT PIERCE NEWS TRIBUNE and THE LOUISVILLE COURIER-JOURNAL and wrote for THE MIAMI HERALD, regional publications, and many national magazines. She was a member of the National Book Critics Circle, the San Diego Professional Editors Network and the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild, for which she served as Web Manager. Books reviewed may have been received as gifts. All her writings are protected by U.S. copyright law.
  • Georganna, great write-up! Thank you! I agree that privacy and security are concerns. I had an entire privacy and security chapter, but my editors thought it was too technical, and I agreed. My book is for a forward-thinking audience, one that is willing to engage in thinking about this kind of future. These people will take the book as a starting point. They will want to know more, not just about privacy and security concerns, but about ontologies, data lockers, passive commerce, semantic marketing, the performance business model, and much more. That’s why I’m building a huge resource online to help them take the next step. It’s just getting started, but you can find it at http://www.thepowerofpull.com. I hope people will come and discuss the issues, learn and share what they have learned, and contribute to a community that can see the future I describe and want to make things better.

    There’s no question that 100% of my predictions won’t come true. But if 50% of what I talk about in my book does come true, the world is going to be a very different place. I invite the curious to read it and decide for themselves how real it is. And how real it could be if we all started to think a bit differently about information.

    Thanks again for taking your time to write this excellent review. Seems that if people of your stature and influence are on board, this movement could go places. That’s why I wrote the book in the first place.