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Online Transparency: Mega Wave Building Now December 3, 2009

Posted by Bernard Lunn in capital markets, Web 3.0 Semantic.
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During the US Presidential election campaign, Google ran a series of amazing meet the candidates events that were broadcast online. They were the opposite of the sound bites on mainstream media. The candidates had plenty of time and were questioned by a highly intelligent audience. Barack Obama was one of the candidates (other ones worth watching IMHO are McCain and Bloomberg). There was one point that made me really appreciate the “audacity of hope”. It was when Obama was asked how somebody with so little experience in Washington could stand up to the special interest lobbies. His response (it is around 0.50 minutes on the video), which previewed what became Data.Gov, made my hair stand on end. Data.gov is real and in this video he describes the initial vision and mission.

Could Data.Gov Become Obama’s Greatest Legacy?

The question seems absurd. But listen to what Harold Wilson, Prime Minister of the UK for 8 years, described as his greatest legacy. Despite many high profile achievements at the pinnacle of power, dealing with big crisis and initiatives on the front page and prime time, he chose his work to create The Open University.

The Open University was founded on the belief that television and radio could bring high quality degree-level learning to people who had not had the opportunity to go to university.

At the time, the creation of the The Open University was lost amidst far more high profile news. But 40 years later all the high profile urgent stuff he worked on is simply material for the history books, while The Open University still has tremendous impact on the lives of millions by improving access to quality education.

Data.Gov will also take years to have a big impact. But it is a toothpaste out of the tube dynamic. Once the data is out, nobody can get it back in. And this is riding a massive wave of online transparency.  There is no need to fight entrenched interests – just ride a massive wave that will effortlessly wash away those entrenched interests and lobbyists.

The Decline Of Asymmetric Information Intermediaries In Consumer Markets

Online transparency is about taking away the power of asymmetric information from an intermediary. We have already seen this play out in consumer markets. Buyers now have access to much better data about pricing and costs. The most notorious intermediary exploiting information asymmetry was the car dealer. That game has changed forever.

Cars, houses, travel and many other big consumer markets now have the consumer in charge. Good data and social ratings have changed these markets forever. These are the big and complex purchase decisions for most consumers.  But the data is still totally simple compared to information about how laws are made in Washington and who influences how those laws are made and how they benefit from those laws.

The Big 3 Markets That Will Be Impacted By Transparency

These consumer markets are also really simple compared to these three big markets:

1. Scientific Technical Medical Publishing.

2. Capital Markets.

3. Healthcare.

The data that drives these markets is horrendously complex. And what happens in these markets really, really matters to all of us.

Enter Stage Right, The Semantic Web

The Semantic Web, the geeky guy that web 2.0 hipsters like to poke fun at, is about to enter the stage and finally has a big role to play.

The data complexity in these markets is overwhelming for a the “slap some HTML and Ajax on top of RDBMS” that is the de facto technical approach today. The best data modelers in the world cannot design upfront for these markets.

Obliterating Data Obfuscation

Software engineers use “obfuscation” techniques to deliberately hide the underlying code designs in order to prevent a user from making an illegal copy through reverse engineering. That is a reasonable objective. What is not reasonable is “intermediary obfuscation”, the deliberate obscuring of reality through layers of complexity and impenetrable jargon. Special interests use data obfuscation to protect their profits.

Three Powerful Forces Driving Transparency

We are now seeing three powerful forces driving transparency:

  1. Political will from the leader of the largest economy in the world.
  2. Consumers and B2B buyers expecting transparency from sellers and rewarding the sellers who deliver it with more business.
  3. Semantic Web/Linked Data technology that is increasingly mature with many passionate proponents seeking a prime time role for the technology. In the capital markets, XBRL is the key enabling technology.

Online transparency is a mega wave to ride.

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Mahalo is Web 2.5 – its official October 4, 2007

Posted by Bernard Lunn in India, social networks, start-ups, Web 3.0 Semantic.
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Jason Calacanis tried spinning Mahalo as Web 3.0 and got flamed all around the Blogosphere. Being a savvy promoter and ex publisher I am sure he is tickled pink at the free attention he got for his start-up.

I have to admit I rather liked his definition of Web 3.0:

“Web 3.0 is defined as the creation of high-quality content and services produced by gifted individuals using Web 2.0 technology as an enabling platform.”

Leaving aside the entirely correct view that all this versioning is just silly (it is silly, but methinks it is here to stay, the concept of continous evolution is too messy to grasp, we need defined phase transition points), Calacanis is just a bit wrong. What he described is Web 2.5. I think he is onto something big with Mahalo and it is a potentially great model, particularly with a few million more knowledge workers coming on stream from “the countries formerly known as emerging markets”. Mahalo is an interim step and brilliantly timed.

The reason is that the real Web 3.0 when we combine the Web 2.0 user generated social web with STRUCTURE (like we had in all those boring 30-year old databases) is a technically very, very tough thing to pull off. There are some big attempts such as Freebase and Radar Networks but these are very early stage.

So the interim, using humans rather than relying solely on algorithms, will be a great business model. It might not be Mahalo that pulls it off. But the basic idea is bang on target IMHO.

What amazes me is that the Mahalo concept was not invented in India.