Mind to Market

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Power of Pull

David Siegel has taken a futurist's view in describing what a world with the Semantic Web would be like in his book Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business. In this world it seems that everything works seamlessly: machines can talk to other machines and to humans and cars and houses and they all seem to know what we want before we know it ourselves. No doubt that adding more intelligence to the Web by organizing the information and adding connections between data has unimagined potential. But Siegel is busy imagining it nevertheless.

This book is deliberately non-technical; describing what the Semantic Web can do with very little emphasis with how it can be done. As its title attests: this is a book for business managers who will be given plenty of examples of what's in store in the Semantic Web future. Techies will also get something out of the "big picture" view and be motivated to plunge deeper into the technical details.

The title "Pull" comes from the concept of actively pulling information and knowledge when and where it is needed, instead of having information pushed at us. This is intended to give us, the consumers of information, some control over its consumption. There is now so much information, both useful and not, that is being pushed on us that we tend to block it all out. If we could control that stream, and receive only that which we need, it would make this information much more useful.

Siegel points out an interesting trend in health information; that patients are demanding and receiving more control over their own medical records. They are demanding the right to pull their data from hospitals, pharmacies and insurers and are not content with waiting for these entities to push just that information they wish to the patient. This is indeed taking place, encouraged by provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which requires doctors and hospitals to provide patients with their information after every visit.

But will advertisers and media companies sit idly by and let consumers take complete control over the information that reaches them? Siegel is fundamentally a cheerleader in the book, building excitement and enthusiasm for this brave new world without really analyzing the downsides. One significant downside is the imminent loss of privacy; data on every facet of our lives will be spread all over the Internet, potentially available for misuse by malevolent forces.

Siegel provides lots of links to current Web sites that provide a glimpse into what we may expect; this field is advancing so rapidly the book may be out of date in a year. In fact, if Siegel's vision comes true, all books may be obsolete. But don't let that stop you, read a copy now so you know what to expect. As Vinod Khosla is quoted on the back cover "There are at last ten killer business ideas in here."

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