Content managers, I'm sure you think your job is hard enough as it is. Sourcing good content, presenting it well, integrating it seamlessly, cataloging it, securing it, backing it up... yikes, the plate is full already.
But content management as we know it is only in its embryonic stage, and as we hurtle towards the Next Big Thing
online, the only thing we can say with any certainty is that we don't know where we are headed.
Well, we can say one other thing. Web content as it is presented today has not achieved its potential. It is simply not reaching its revenue potential for publishers, nor its usefulness potential for consumers. This is an absolute fact, when you take into consideration the implications of what has been called the Semantic Web
If you are running an online digital camera blog, you will post regular reviews of products. Hopefully you will have user-generated reviews, too. A voting system. Links to affiliated sites where viewers can buy it. Links to where to get accessories. Further useful information on various photographing techniques, etc.
The Semantic Web looks like it will make things a whole lot more complicated. In essence, it will mean websites and applications will be talking directly to each other, sharing information wholesale and taking action, on-the-fly, as this informational context evolves.
This will be good from a commercial point of view because it will mean that appropriately annotated public information will effectively be morphed into the single largest database of content and knowledge the world has ever known. Those who learn to leverage and monetize this data have a lot to gain -- this is essentially what Google has built its entire business on.
The basic components of the Semantic Web are in place today. It just seems like some smart techies need to get off their butts and build the new software, and get the guys at the W3C to agree on enough ground-rules to get the investments flowing, and we'll nearly there.
So how will it affect publishers? Take that digital camera blog for example. Now, you have users looking at the new Nikon 8900a, with a picture of the device beside your lovingly crafted content. But the Semantic Web might know that user X's favorite color is pink, because that's the color of her MySpace wallpaper, it's the color she ordered for her iPod on a retail site, it's the color she picked as her favorite on an Web 3.0 info-digger's website two months ago. So instead of the original picture of the camera on a white table-top, now it is buried in, let's say, a pink rug, with a few flowers dotted around.
The Semantic Web might know that she bookmarked the product review. The next time she visits Amazon, if this product seemed to interest her quite a bit, that nice pink fluffy picture will be there again in the sidebar, enticing her.
The sheer scale of potential information will make full integration of the Semantic scenario difficult to achieve. Plus, the whole 'Big Brother' scent of this level of intimacy is sure to offend many, and will most certainly slow things down a bit as new lines are drawn and protected.
But the digital integration of the Web's disparate databases will be good for business and good for global knowledge. We can expect to see the Semantic Web come to life in some form or other. And soon.
Content Management Will Change
Developments like these will have enormous implications for content managers. Your back-end may well have to be completely torn out and replaced to support dynamic (and dynamically evolving?) content, but this could just be the start.
Using an example from Tim Berners-Lee -- who coined the name "Semantic Web", imagine an event listing on the Web for a lecture. It includes time and date, location, the speaker's name, contact information. If you click the link to book yourself in, GPS co-ordinates are delivered instantly to your car's GPS system. The diary on your PDA is updated automatically. Maybe an airline will send you a couple of last-minute deals to your Blackberry if the lecture is out of town. If you book another event on the same day, an agent pops up to politely remind you that you will be busy that afternoon.
Now, if you are pushing the event on your site, to be competitive you will have to be tied in to the different agents which will do all this work.
Are you ready for all that? We doubt it. We just don't know what that
will entail yet.
In addition, bear in mind that your very role will have changed in a fundamental way. From content managers we will become content integrators, content protectors and content deal brokers. The proprietor of that same digital-camera blog is giving information, while trying to hustle a buck from ads and affiliates. But the Semantic Web may give him a new income stream: based on the information he can glean about his users, which he can then share, possibly with preferred partners.
Once computers start talking to each other using the semantic framework, it's fair to say that all bets are off with regards to the limits of what's next. The life of a Web professional is full of unknowables and scant of security. The Semantic Web will take these things to a new level.
But then I guess you just wouldn't have it any other way.