Raw Data Now! Raw Data Now! Raw Data Now!

This is the phrase Tim Berners-Lee made the audience chant at his recent TED talk. I recommend you watch the video if you want to really understand why he did it.

I’ve been trying to understand my frustration with all things online. I think I’m starting to get somewhere. You see, we’re stuck. We’ve come about as far as we can with the current state of the Web. We know how to connect, we know how to communicate, market, brand and sell in this space. Now we’re out there teaching others how to do it too. We’re doing a pretty good job of it, and lots of people are catching on to the power of this new medium. Sure, we’re still working out the kinks. But we’re getting there.

To alleviate some of my boredom with social media, I’ve started thinking a lot about data, and about how to make information more meaningful. You see, it’s all fine and well that we have this wonderful Web with billions of pages of information. We have communities, and connectedness, and the ability to access nearly anything or anyone at the push of a button. But there are still really simple things we can’t do.

Imagine if you will…

You love the musician Beck. You go to his web site. You click a single button that says “Buy Tickets”. The site  knows what city you live in. It compares your Google calendar to the concert schedule. It discovers that Beck is playing in your city on August 18th and it just so happens you are available that day. It buys two tickets, sends you a confirmation, and inserts the event into your calendar on your behalf. It does all of this in one click.

Here’s one my students came up with…I added the shopping list bit.

You are surfing on Flickr and come across a picture of the most delicious looking chocolate cake you’ve ever seen. You want the recipe. You click on the photo, and up pops a list of recipes for chocolate cake. You choose your preferred recipe and the ingredients list is then placed in your shopping list tool on your iPhone. Don’t want to bake? Then just choose to have the cake custom made at your local bakery. The order gets sent directly to them, and all you need to do is go pick it up.

The Web, in all it’s glory, cannot perform these simple tasks in it’s current iteration. But it’s possible. And it will happen. What do we need to achieve this? Well, as Berners-Lee says, we need people to start releasing their data. By people, he means governments, corporations, organizations, and individuals.

Of course as soon as anyone starts pushing around ideas about releasing data people’s backs go up. They get defensive. They don’t want to give away secrets. They want to hang on to everything and share nothing.

But sharing data is what is going to make this new Web possible.

We are already good at sharing, right? We share on our blogs, we share on Twitter, we share links, contact info, we share what we know about stuff, and so on. So, it stands to reason then that we should already feel comfortable with sharing our data?

Making sense of information is going to be the next big step for the Web. As much as the onset of new media has revolutionized the way we interact, making meaning out of the Web will change things even more.

So, where do we begin?

7 Responses

  1. Ryan Anderson wrote a great little thought experiment on this a few months ago. I can’t find the link but if you ping him I’m sure he’ll send it a long. Anyway, it envisions the same sort of digital future you set out here.

    It’s going to be a challenge, though, I think. Even in communities and industries that DO share data, look at how difficult it is to aggregate everything we need. When I write a blog post I get comments on my site, comments on twitter and, sometimes, comments in the form of other bloggers writing about the topic. Sure there are services that try to bring all of that together but nothing has really emerged as the best tool.

    If it’s this tough to share data in an open community, imagine how difficult it will be in the world of proprietary information and profit margins. Add in a dose of privacy concerns and identity theft threats and I can’t even beging to see how a solution will ever take hold.

    I’m not saying it won’t happen. I’m sure it will, eventually. But perhaps not as quickly as some of us would hope.

    Joe Boughner’s last blog post..Social media for fun and (non-)profits

  2. Joe – certainly there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to solve all of the issues that are created by this new way of thinking about information.

    Where there’s a problem, there’s always a solution, in my estimation. The solutions won’t come easy, or quickly, but I definitely think it’s worth talking about these ideas a little more.

  3. But part of realizing this is the benefit of microformats, no?

    (not so much the Beck ticket experience – that should be possible by pure cookies and a good e-ticket seller).

    But the idea of placing a microformat tag on Flickr that says “More info” or “Buy here” or something that would then allow you to go to that site and purchase that item.

    What that does require though is for EVERYONE to get on the same band-wagon. but once again, here is where microformats can definitely help.


  4. Ah – that’s an entirely different question. Part of it might be the fact that TicketMaster is the #1 place where artists would point fans to for buying tickets.

    Most big ticket sites ask you where you live unless you login – so you would need a shared login (OpenID perhaps) and their support of that.

    Then you would be able to know what city you live in. Saving it as a cookie works too.

    Checking your Google Calendar should be possible if it was done with OpenID but even if not, if you make your schedule public, finding it via an RSS read is fairly simple.

    The bigger issue with tickets though would be “what level do you want”,”how much do you want to pay” etc – I find I have to re-ask the system several times before I get my perfect tickets.

    That said, if they purchased them and allowed me to change where they were within a 24 hour period, I’d be in for that.

    Andrew’s last blog post..Windows 7: First Early Impressions on VPC

  5. Suze, another home run with this post!

    A big focus of AdaptiveBlue is solving this problem. It’s a big problem so we’re taking a pragmatic approach to it and trying to solve the easy challenges first.

    We’re lucky that many of the easy challenges are also things that matter a great deal to consumers (which is critical at this point as it’s the business that can be built which fueled our funding).

    Right now Glue (www.getglue.com) recognizes objects across popular consumer verticals.

    A (slightly hidden) feature is the ACTIONS menu that is accessible on pages about everyday things (books, movies, music, etc).

    The product is able to identify the NOUN on the page and then the consumer can access a list of VERBS that are relevant for the noun via the ACTIONS menu.

    For example, when looking at a movie on IMDB the user can select “Add to Netflix Queue” and the movie will be automatically added to their queue, without leaving the page. In this case the noun is the specific movie and the verb is ‘rent.’

    As linked data becomes more available these types of actions will be more easily surfaced. THIS is going to create great benefit for everyone online.

    Fraser’s last blog post..Fraser: Foursquare Scores Despite Its Flaws: http://bit.ly/ZMYSg [TechCrunch] “But my desire to unlock more badges never waned.” Me: Agree.

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