The Pull Era and the Semantic Web
Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business by David Siegel
Pull is about technology transforming the way we do business, but it can be read as a book on a new category of products and user experiences. David Siegel describes the pull era as a time when “customers pull everyting to them on demand – products, services, information, knowledge, and advice.” Siegel says “it’s a world where customers pull and companies respond.” In the pull world, “you specify what you want and it finds you.” The technology basis for the concept of pull is the semantic web–making information available and easibly discoverable online with a common name space in an unambiguous format.
This book is mostly a set of futuristic scenarios categorized by the supporting technology or design concept. It’s a highly ambitious project and Siegel reaches into the legal, taxation, and health care domains to sketch out his vision for the semantic web, intelligent data stores, and new ways of doing business. Siegel’s vision is quite ambitious, reaching towards an artificial intelligence that is guided by semantic search and global ontologies. He does, however, match up each prediction with current-day examples of supporting technologies and standards initiatives.
The pull idea not only describes an ecosystem of products and services that we’ll be using in the future, it’s also a mindset and set of principles that product designers and developers can adopt as they build the next generation of hardware and software technology. Pull is a design manifesto for customer powered information exchange.
In the push model, the website is at the center and people come and go. In the pull era, you are at the center; web sites get your identiy credentials by permission and authentication, rather than by asking you to fill out forms.
This book is similar to Bruce Sterling’s Shaping Things in that it describes a category of products and services that today exist only in splinters. Siegel references spimes because any object with an RFID tag that generates metadata and knows its location in space and time qualifies as a spime. Siegel gives an extended culinary example: your refrigerator will adjust its temperature setting based on the requirements of the contents, it will order items when they are used up, and you’ll be able to query the kitchen for dinner ideas based on available ingredients. Similarly, a catalog owned by a distributor could connect to its customer inventory database to suggest orders, discounts, and replacement items. A running shoe manufacturer which embeds RFID tags in running shoes so runners can register for races and track their results in a single location is moving towards a pull model.
The Semantic Web
The semantic web tries to make sense of written and spoken language that we intuitively understand but computers normally don’t–usually qualitative information like reviews, opinions, descriptions, directions, and definitions.
Two tests for semantic web:
1. Is it semantic? Are the terms unambiguous and tagged in a royalty-free format, governed by a nonprofit organization, that all software programs can understand?
2. Is it on the web? Is it online using a common name space that makes it easily findable? Is it shared among collaborators or companies? Does it use the information already online to get smarter as more people use it?
Core Principles of Pull
- Automatic generation of metadata – As we move through our lives, each transaction, product, and service touchpoint will generate data that will be stored in our personal data locker. Some events will generate data that will be sent back to the manufacturer to improve future products. The metadata must be in a shareable, reusable format.
- A customer-centered view of data – Siegel sees a power shift from traditional push tactics used today by marketers and service providers to a cusomter-centric pull paradim in which customers decide who sees their data and who they want to have relationships with. Services align around customers to provide greater value. Companies will organize around customers and customer groups, not capabilities.
- Intelligent data stores – The personal data locker is a foundational concept for the pull era. All devices will have intelligent meta data generators and decision systems–your call will send system status information to the manufacturer and automatically schedule maintenance. Resumes and other standard document formats will build themselves.
- Intelligent marketing – One of the benefits of the pull concept for marketers is the end of ad targeting based on keyword search and profile information. In the pull era, personal data lockers will make their owners’ preferences known to marketers explicitly. Personal data lockers will have permissions and visiblity levels that will govern which marketing entities can view and interact with which data and preferences.
- Data ownership and portability – This concept combines two pull themes: everyone owns all their data and decides how it is used and how visible it is; data can be made anvailable to any service or provider based on data locker permissions.
- Single source of truth for data – In the pull era, data will never be duplicated.
Key Enabling Technologies
- On-line data locker – The on-line data locker precludes the need for wallets, paper files, multiple user accounts, bank accounts, and most of the information storage and retrieval technologies we use today.
- Digital Birth Certificate – Each manufactured object will have a unique documented identity that will follow it through its life and document its lifecycle. This information will be used for product development, reuse, and ecologically mindful disposal.
- RFID – Although RFID has not seen the adoption that Siegel would like, the attributes of RFID that make it important for the pull vision are the ability of any object to make itself known to a local or global network and enable two-way communication information about its status.
- Taxonomies – Taxonomies structure information in a machine-readable format and make it available for the various processes and flows in the pull paradigm. For example, Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is a taxonomy that standardizes the data contained in financial reports in order to allow universal interchange of the information. This structured data can then be presented in a standard financial report or any other desired format.
- Ontologies – On-line ontologies are sets of rules which support answering questions (rather than just searching for keywords). This semantic search functionality is key to pull because it allows more effective use of on-line information.
- Semantic search – Rather than relying on keyword matching, semantic search answers questions, making information more accessible and enabling true decision support.
- Unique identity – To enable many of the pull concepts, everything and everyone needs a unique identity.
The History of Information
Siegel traces the evolution of information generation and storage in this video from its beginnings in the earliest writing to the explosion of data fueled by internet technologies and media.
He frames the problem by saying that the way we’re currently using information is broken at the scale we’ve achieved. After a keyword search, we visit each page to see if the answer is there; search engines don’t know if the answer to our question is on a given page; search engines only return keyword hits and links; search engines must guess the meaning of the information on the pages. Similarly, it’s not possible to compare similar items on different websites.
The solution is the pull concept described in the book which is supported by the semantic (unambiguous) web.
Your Online Data Locker
Much of the pull vision is supported by the idea of a personal data locker which not only stores all the information you generate and collect, but can also intelligently act upon that information to make decisions.
Here Siegel describes his vision of the personal data locker, a cloud-based desktop which contains all our information and applications/services.