OPW - June 14 - David Siegel is the author of a new book called Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business. David is also working on a next generation dating service.
I would like to learn more about your background and the semantic web. How might it be applicable to the internet dating world in the future?
I started one of the first web design firms back in ’94 and wrote the first book on web design in ’95. As the web has grown, it’s gotten much more complex. It has turned into a big tangle of links and keywords, rather than anything organized. So the idea of the semantic web is to go back and organize our most important information and make it easily accessible. In my view, the goal is for companies to transition from pushing information to pulling it. So along with working with startups, trying to get a new dating site going, and starting a family, that is what I’ve been working on for the past 10 years, and that's how long it's taken me to get this book out. It's called Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business.
How can you help people who are looking for their other half?
The goal of the semantic web is to put everything on a web footing, which is far bigger than Facebook, Google, AOL, or even Match.com. The idea is that you would be able to build a universal profile and host it anywhere you like, just like a blog or a web site. The profile would then enable you to use search engines to look for people across the entire Web, so that you don’t have to continuously log into dating sites. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the dating sites will go away. Instead, they’ll become services. They'll add value to your search, helping you filter and find the people you're looking for, without hosting all the profiles themselves. I'm working on one such engine now that is independent of the dating site I hope to launch.
Soon, people will be able to establish what I call an “online data locker.” This is where they consolidate all their personal information: medical profile, resume, school and work history, a personals profile, as well as profiles for social networking, family management, vendor-relationship management, and more. Then all they would have to do is apply that single profile to as many services as they want. So try to imagine a day when a dating site doesn’t have any members. Why duplicate the profile-making process? If a dating site wants extra information, it can ask for it, but this goes way beyond Facebook Connect.
This sounds rather utopian. How long is this going to take? And what are the risks going to be?
It’s already happening, and it's being supported by groups like the W3C, which governs web standards. We have FOAF, which is Friend of a Friend, a social graph of people you’re connected to. Those connections will continue to strengthen, multiply and diverge into different kinds of groups. As we add more and more information, we'll find ourselves at our "personal information dashboard," and we'll stop going to so many web sites. Check out DataPortability.org. They want you to own your information, so you should be able to move it from any account to another. For example, if I’m on eHarmony, I ought to be able to move my dating profile to another dating site or to my personal data locker and then manage it from there. Try that on Facebook - they've said they are joining Dataportibility.org, but they haven't done anything about it. Google, on the other hand, wants you to be able to get your data out if you want - see DataLiberation.org. This is going to be a big deal. If Facebook and other businesses don't embrace data portability, they will suffer the consequences.
Second, we already have serious security and identity risks happening today. People are willing to give out personal details to sites like Facebook, which exposes them to search engines. So those issues are already a reality. We’re just going to have to iterate our way from here to an end point that's much more secure. Fortunately, a group called Identity Commons (IdentityCommons.net) is already developing the identity and networking protocols necessary to build true webs of trust. Then we'll add icards (see informationcard.net) and that will start to make the dream of a private, secure data locker a reality.
Could the personal data locker be Facebook?
To get the answer, you’d have to read my book. Facebook provides a place to put your information, but it doesn’t provide the privacy, security, control, or the kinds of disambiguation and modularization of data we'll need. I would keep an eye on Google, which recently hired Chris Messina, an Open Web advocate. If they play their cards right, Google could start leading the way. Another site to watch is Power.com, where you can aggregate a number of different social networks in one place and manage them from there. The aggregation movement is hot right now (Hootsuite, Mint.com, GoMiles.com, etc), and the personal data locker is the ultimate aggregator - you'll have everything under one roof, with as much security and as many passwords and personas as you want to manage. I think Facebook could eventually follow Friendster and Myspace into the heap of irrelevant data silos.
Facebook is under fire for releasing more and more of people’s personal information. So it almost seems like users are starting to demand this kind of data locker already. I’m envisioning a central place. But based on what you just said, it seems like it can be multiple places. Is that correct?
There are many potential scenarios, and with open standards we'll probably see all of them. Microsoft Health Vault is actually an excellent place to put your health information right now. Mint is acceptable for personal finance, but those who've read my book know we have a long way to go. Interoperability is the key. The last thing you want to do is enter all of your contacts or enter all of your health information to find out it can’t be applied to anything else. You’d want to be able to apply it everywhere. You’d want to build it once and then reuse it over and over again, and that's one of the principles of the semantic web.
Will this all be free?
I hope not. I like to think of my personal information as pretty important. I'd love to pay to have it stored and organized properly, the way I do today with my photos. I prefer to pay, because I want high levels of storage, security, privacy, and support. Of course, plenty of companies will make the data locker free, but be aware of what you give up in exchange. I'm sure we'll see a range of offers, but I personally would be happy to pay and be in complete control.
For more information, visit David online at http://thepowerofpull.com and follow him on Twitter: @Pullnews and @_dsiegel.