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Almost all the traditional media industries and their companies were caught off-guard when starting in 1992 billions of consumers gravitated online after gaining Internet access. Most were again caught off-guard when, due to the ever-accelerating technological progresses of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ laws, personal computers, other electronic devices, and such things software, became powerful enough that consumers have become able to publish and broadcast their own contents online as easily as can traditional media industries. Those two stratal periods, respectively known as ‘Web 1.0’ and ‘Web 2.0’ (but more accurately as Web 1 and Web 2), caused significant turmoil in those industries; but that upheaval will pale compared to the next online technology period that’s dawning. Web 3 will be apocalyptical to traditional media industries and companies that fail to adapt to it.
When people now use World Wide Web, they themselves hunt, gather, sort, and process the online contents they need, want, or like. They might be aided by search engines, which identify texts via keyword indexing and some metadata and which can rank texts accordingly. However, the users of the Web must themselves process the interrelationships, if any, among the contents they gather. For example, let’s say that you live in Boston and must go to Los Angeles for business. You’ll need an airline flight. You’ll need a hotel. You’ll need transportation from the airport to your hotel and to your business appointments (do you use taxis or rent a car at the airport?) You’ll need to know how much travel time you’ll need to and between your business appointments. If you choose to rent a car, you’ll need directions. If you want to breakfast, lunch, or dine with any of your business contacts, you’ll need to know some well-regarded restaurants, how to get to those, and if those have available table reservations? If you have any time free in Los Angeles, you might want to know some nearby sightseeing spots, shops, or if any of your friends who live in Los Angeles are available or if any of your other friends are also visiting that city while you’re there. The answers to all these needs and wants are probably available online, but you’ll now need to click to a dozen or more different websites to find the elements of those answers, then you’ll have to calculate and coordinate the various distances and travel times involved, and only then make your transportation, lodging, dining, and other arrangements. And once you’ve done all that, if a business contact or contacted friend in that town then changes a rendezvous time, or if during your trip you encountered unexpectedly heavy air or road traffic, you might again have to spend appreciable time coordinating and changing the all your arrangements accordingly. It’s all considerable work.
That using the Web requires that much work was as early as 2000 seen by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web (the ‘www’ in most hyperlink addresses), as the great disadvantage of his invention as it currently exists. So, he and other members of the 385-member World Wide Web Consortium which he directs began work on a solution to it. In the May 2001 edition of Scientific American magazine, he described his proposed solution, which I encourage you to read.
If when you first realize that you must go to Los Angeles for business, instead of hunting and gathering and sorting all the necessary information, you instead could simple speak or type into your personal computer or ‘smartphone’ or other computerized device all those elemental needs and wants that trip involves, and a minute or two later whatever you device you used finds all the necessary information, coordinates it all, displays the results for your approval, then automatically makes all the necessary reservations if you approve. And if during your trip, a business contact, contacted friend, traffic, or other unexpected events complicate or disrupt this coordinated plan, your devices will automatically adjust the arrangements and reservations to compensate. This is Web 3, the Semantic Web. Rather than the Web merely being an online network of elements of information that you have to coordinate to satisfy your own needs, interests, and tastes, it becomes capable of semantically parses and understands the logical interrelationship of those elements for your needs and desires, and acts like a computerized informational concierge that saves you the considerable work of hunting, gathering, coordinating, and implementing all those elements. It would likely do this work in the Internet ‘Cloud’ and so be accessible anywhere you have access to any online device connected to a keyboard or microphone (a desktop, laptop or notebook, tablet, smartphone, eyeglass display, automotive information system, smart TV, wearable device, etc.), giving you up-to-date, integrated solutions. (Travel arrangements would be only one of potentially millions of purposes for which Web 3 would be used. ‘Did the post office deliver my present to Aunt Berta in Berlin and has she posted any photos of her birthday party yet? If so, connect videophone call between her and I now, but only after you show me any photos of her birthday party photos which anyone has put online,’ might be another.)
Instrumental to the successful operation of Web 3 is the inclusion, and proper utilization, of content metadata. That word means data about the data: data attached to the data and describing the category, type, nature, providence, and rights about each complete element of data. Many journalists and entertainers think that the story itself tells the story. But telling isn’t distributing. For a story to find its appropriate recipients, or an even wider audience than any single Mass Media platform can give, the story needs to contain accompanying metadata.
How could anyone conceive of a metadata scheme or system that is capable of describing everything that’s possible under the sun and beyond? Some folks who are ignorant of metadata think that capability is impossible, yet history provides many examples (Carl Linnaeus’s biological taxonomy, Peter Mark Roget’s thesaurus of words and meanings, etc.) that it is quite achievable. And, in this case, the work has largely been done. The key to Web 3 is eXtensible Markup Languages, ways of applying unseen metadata to seen content. Numerous interrelated metadata schemas (i.e., content Markup Languages) exist, most created by a major trade association or organization of content creators of that category of information. For examples, NewsML is a metadata scheme for news and is used by Agence France Presse, ANSA, the Associated Press, the European Broadcasting Union, Kyodo News, Thomson-Reuters, and The Wall Street Journal. RecipeML for publishers and broadcasters of recipes. Music Markup Language for music. SportsML for news about sports. XBRL (eXtensible Business Report Language) for financial information, metadata that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the U.S., the Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs in the U.K., and (HMRC), and the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority of Singapore now require companies to use. AdsML is a metadata scheme for advertising, used by a variety of major publishers. ONIX for books, jointly developed by the Association of American Publishers, the EDItEUR organization of European book publishers, and the Book Industry Communications (BIC) of the UK. Geography Markup Language from the Open Geospatial Consortium. A markup language version of Exchangeable image file format (Exif) from the photography industry. Open Scripture Information Standard (OSIS) for religious texts (OSIS is so far used only by Christian theologists). And there are more than 100 other major schemas.
All these metadata schemas are interrelated variants of Dublin Core XML. Named for the Ohio town in which in 1995 it was first formulated by an international group of information scientists, Dublin Core is the proposed core eXtensible Markup Language (XML) for all the world’s information, an effort to ensure that all elements of information are semantically understandable by computers. These efforts, many of which are well underway, mean that various media industries don’t need to begin formulating and coordinating metadata coding schemas in preparation for Web 3. They merely need to complete and fully implement those already underway.
Unfortunately, far too few traditional media companies have begun utilizing these metadata schemas – or even any metadata at all. And most of the few that do use a metadata scheme do so only in part, merely to allow contents from their traditional products (printed contents, terrestrially or cable broadcast contents, etc.) to be reused in professional proprietary online systems such as brokerage and bank trading terminal networks or to help optimize those contents for higher rankings in search engine optimization. Inclusion of metadata, the key to Web 3, in their product’s contents isn’t part of their production.
Most of the world’s traditional media companies still believe that the purpose of placing contents online is to motivate consumers to visit the companies’ websites so that those consumers can be exposed to banner advertising sold by the companies. The fact that most online consumers no longer make specific trips to those companies’ websites but instead visit those websites incidentally as a result of seeing, via a form of Individuated Media such as a search engine or Social Media network, a hyperlink to a story on the site, escapes those companies cognizance and strategic planning. When consumers began using Web 3 technologies that eliminate any need for the consumers themselves to visit the companies’ websites at all, this new wave of informational technology will likely sink those strategic plans, and those media companies that don’t fully use metadata.
That is also true for media companies who pin their online strategic planning to strategies that attempt to ‘engage’ consumers with the websites’ contents. Consumers might see individual stories delivered to them as a result of Web 3 technologies, but the consumers themselves won’t be visiting those websites—Web 3 robotic informational software will instead. These effects further illustrate how the stories themselves are increasingly becoming more valuable than the sum of them (i.e., the ‘edition’ or ‘program’ or other traditional forms of media content packaging).
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