The nice folks at Mediabistro invited me to join them at the Web 3.0 conference last week. I was able to attend a few panels and hear lots of passionate hallway conversations about scraping data from some source or another (there was so much talk about scraping, I nearly thought this was a dental conference describing some painful surgical procedure).
I was bedazzled by the possibilities of semantic technologies within Web 3.0, as described with simplicity by Christine Connors of Dow Jones. These technologies will enable people to create their own personal data sets reflective of how they see the world. I can't say I have a clue about the plumbing of this type of semantic technology, but I now understand some core concepts -- so I am grateful.
I was bemused (in a good way) by the panel "The Evolution of Targeting," which talked about how this next version of the web will allow new levels of targeting based on detailed attributes. The discussion included representatives from a variety of newer targeting technologies. They tried to reconcile the inherent conflict of online advertising, where marketers want to pay only for those people with precise attributes, and consumers want their privacy. This was a bit painful to watch. All agreed to the need for consumer control, but no one had much of a clue what to do.
So while I was befuddled, at least I was not alone. There was an open acknowledgment that there's a long way to go, especially in the areas of trust, security and privacy. There was a vague sense of poignancy centered on the fact that within the very platform presumably devoted to transforming the generic web into a personal web, our very human needs around trust and security are largely absent from the conversation. In the semantic world, Ms. Connors candidly asked for help in creating trust in this evolving data world, fully recognizing the current gap. And as to the issue of trust and privacy in the advertising world, it'll be hard to resolve the challenge so everyone is satisfied. How do people control their information? What is the line between useful vs. intrusive? And so on.
So now that we know a few of the gaps, the question is what to do about it. Some answers emerge inspired by the smart people at the conference (which is why going to conferences is almost always worth the trip). Other solutions involve new ideas about how we approach our digital world.
For instance, back in the semantic world, Ms. Connors suggested that activities related to creating trust in the semantic silo of the next-gen web be centered within the W3C, the respected standards organization. It would make sense for a security company or a certification authority to take the lead here.
As to the seemingly untenable position of marketers' need for precision targeting without violating individual rights for privacy, I'll throw out this idea, possible only because technology lets us turn the ad model around by 180 degrees. Instead of continuing with the existing model, where online marketers push marketing messages to consumers and hope they are relevant, let consumers pull the online marketing messages they want based on their personal (aka human) needs. This would work especially well where the buying process involves the internet, which is to say almost all the time.
It resolves so many of the irreconcilable tensions between marketers and consumers and the benefits are obvious: no waste, no conflict, more trust. Even a guy at a large search company thought it was a good idea when he said, "Judy, start a company." Better yet, though, I can see technology solving this via a consumer "pull" platform baked in with security and privacy controls (I am sure some clever tech company is already on this, and I'd love to hear from them).
Finally, I learned firsthand at the Web 3.0 conference that my hunch about the lack of focus on the human element was correct. It's why I wonder if the name Web 3.0 does more harm than good because it obscures the vision of the next-gen web as the web for each of us. My call to rename Web 3.0 to the Trusted Web is grounded in the hope that if we change the field of vision to the human element, the technology wizards can evolve their ideas within that context.
This is where vision is required. This why this is just starting to get fun.
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Judy Shapiro is senior VP at Paltalk and has held senior marketing positions at Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.