Enterprise 3.0: Semweb Commercialization Options

By   /  January 16, 2008  /  No Comments

Back when I was an industry analyst (VP, E-Business Strategies at the META Group, since acquired by Gartner), I often had to critique emerging markets.  Unlike venture capitalists, industry analysts are privy to product roadmaps from publicly-traded companies, including the industry giants (Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, IBM).  And unlike i-bankers, they are privy to product roadmaps from start-ups.  And as a kicker, some analysts (actually, only those with the largest firms; back then, primarily limited to those analysts with Gartner, Forrester, META and Giga) get a lot of great feedback from CIOs and other end users.

Back when I was an industry analyst (VP, E-Business Strategies at the META Group, since acquired by Gartner), I often had to critique emerging markets.  Unlike venture capitalists, industry analysts are privy to product roadmaps from publicly-traded companies, including the industry giants (Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, IBM).  And unlike i-bankers, they are privy to product roadmaps from start-ups.  And as a kicker, some analysts (actually, only those with the largest firms; back then, primarily limited to those analysts with Gartner, Forrester, META and Giga) get a lot of great feedback from CIOs and other end users.

One of the first tasks is to see if there’s a "real" market opportunity.  If so, how large?  How long will it take for the market to develop?  What are the critical chasm crossing issues?  Are lead users the only users?  (This happens more often than many firms would like to admit.)  How good is a firm’s positioning?  Branding?  And, will the giants eat a start-up’s lunch – or possibly buy them?  These are among the many questions that are addressed.

There are many ways to address these questions.  Unfortunately, most (all?) industry analysts and even financial analysts take a rather parochial view of reality.  You’ll almost never (or ever) find the type of analysis that you might see done by the RAND Corporation, or tools used by professional futurists.  The analysis tends to be extremely tactical, fingers are snapped, and a strategic roadmap is drawn.  Dangerous, but this is the way it’s done.

Today I’m going to take an initial (and perhaps dangerous) stab at Enterprise 3.0 within the context of semweb commercialization.  It’s an initial stab and I hope the basis for ongoing discourse among SemanticReport.com readers and many columns to follow.

First, I want to dispel the notion that semweb is Web 3.0.  This is nonsense.  Semweb is a core technology, and I’d argue that Web x.y is about different levels of interactions.  It has everything to do with what Main Street, U.S.A. can relate to, nothing to do with core technology (which they can’t relate to).  And as a semweb evangelist, I’d even argue that to equate semweb with Web 3.0 is to trivialize semweb, even though this causality is often touted by other semweb evangelists.

What was Web 1.0?  At first, it wasn’t even graphical.  I’m sure some of us used Lynx.  (I did.)  Then came Mozilla and a graphical web.  At that point, we got to play around with web sites.  We started to dabble in e-commerce.  Of course, email was the killer app.  Or was it?  Email was the killer app for the internet, but was it really the killer app for the web?  Maybe, thanks in large part to AOL.  We started moving from geeky IRC to graphical IM clients.  Let’s face it, the IM clients really weren’t much prettier than IRC, but they seemed a lot prettier … and there’s much to be said for a pretty face in a graphical environment.  Some experimented with CUSeeMe (first generation Skype or Yahoo! Messenger), Worlds, Inc. (first generation Second Life), even with VRML.  I’d argue that there was a lot of social networking, but it just wasn’t organized.  I equate Web 1.0 with Interactions 1.0. 

Then came Web 2.0.  Post-bubble and our industry had to come up with an almost nationalistic framework for reviving our lost souls.  Thank you Tim O’Reilly.  But what really changed between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0?  Has there been a huge advance in e-commerce?  No, not really.  Sure, Amazon, eBay, other storefronts have made improvements, but nothing terribly exciting from a user’s perspective.  (Yes, Amazon has made phenomenal strides in core technology, but to the average Amazon user, they have no idea any of this is even happening.  To them, mention  "Mechanical Turk" and they’ll think of a handyman from Turkey.) 

Of course, we now have, or so it seems, a new VoIP company each week, each offering phone calls for $ 0.0000001 cents per minute cheaper than the guy who launched the prior week.  (I’m not sure this is progress.) Yet, ubiquitous voice is certainly an element of Web 2.0.  Living in China, I rely on SkypeIn to automatically route calls from my San Francisco and Mid-Peninsula phone numbers to my mobile phone in China.  (The downside is that I get annoying phone calls at 3 am from people in the States who are trying to catch me just before they think I’m going to lunch.)  So what’s the major difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0?  I’d argue that it’s organized social networking.  I’d also equate this with Interactions 2.0, since it’s really about interactions – and this time it’s about interactions between people (Web 2.0) rather than with either web sites (a form of human-computer interaction) or very simple forms of human-human interaction (Web 1.0).

Enter Web 3.0

So what is Web 3.0 all about?  Using the "interactions" framework, I’d argue that it’s about intelligent or smart interactions.  Nova Spivack, Founder & CEO of Radar Networks, the company behind Twine, likes to use the word "smart."  I agree.  "Intelligent" is probably best suited to Web 4.0 (or Web 5.0) and implies AI … and AI isn’t yet ready for prime time.  Instead of "artificial intelligence," think of "software smarts."  This also plays to another point:  Whereas AI will be the core technology behind Web 4.0 or Web 5.0, semweb is the core technology underlying Web 3.x.  The trick, of course, is to make semweb invisible to end users. 

However, this may be trivializing the possibilities.  Saying Web 3.0 kind of implies a simple generational advance from Web 2.0.  But this isn’t the case, not at all.  Whereas there was the World Wide Web, there is now (or will soon be) a Semantic Web.  This is an extremely important point.  Saying Web 3.0 trivializes the possibilities, makes it seem like Web 3.0 will be about creating a better Facebook.  Although this will certainly happen, it barely touches upon the possibilities. 

Think of how many applications (apps) were developed for the World Wide Web?  Think of how different the World Wide Web was from everything else doable on the Internet (capital "I" back then, small "i" now according to accepted journalistic practices).  My prediction: The Semantic Web (semweb) will provide a platform for a whole new generation of applications.  Semweb is not just a generational advance from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0, but about a whole new platform of possibilities – and that’s what I like to call it, "Semweb: A Platform of Possibilities."

Life in the Enterprise

Harvard’s Andrew McAfee coined the term "Enterprise 2.0."  He defines it as, "the emerging use of Web 2.0 technologies like blogs and wikis (both perfect examples of network IT) within the Intranet."  Note that Chief Radarian Nova Spivack uses the phrase "knowledge networking" when he talks about semweb in the enterprise.

So what is Enterprise 3.0?  I like to think of it as Interactions 3.0 – richer, smarter interactions — within a corporate setting, although not necessarily limited to one’s intranet.  It doesn’t have to be enterprise-class per se, could equally apply to SMEs (small and medium enterprises); "enterprise" simply differentiates this space from a purely consumer play.  LinkedIn versus Facebook; better, LinkedIn versus MySpace (since some people use Facebook for business purposes).

To put it in fairly straightforward terms, it’s one-click networking and discovery based upon one’s social semantic graph.  Nova likes to say "semantic social graph," but I believe that "social semantic graph" is more to the point.  Think about it: semantic social graph versus social semantic graph.  To me, it isn’t so much about "semantically-enabling" one’s social graph as is it about using one’s semantic graph as the anchor in a social network.  Yes, this pretty much sums it up: one-click networking and discovery based upon one’s professional semantic graph.  To paraphrase Nova, it’s knowledge networking and discovery.  Twine, for example, isn’t a complete KM solution, but part of a KM solution, no different than AmberPoint offers a part of a SOA solution, SuiteTwo is part of a collaboration solution (and is in many ways complementary to Twine), and Metastorm offers part of a part of a BPM solution; as such, Twine, AmberPoint, SuiteTwo and Metastorm are best-of-breed point solutions.  That’s Enterprise 3.0 in a nutshell.

Positioning & Go To Market Strategies
Since semweb as a core tech and semweb apps (in particular) are not fully baked, positioning and go to market strategies are all over the map.  I hate to say this, but it resembles a technology/platform in search of a market.  (I lived through this when I was with Microsoft’s WebTV business unit.) 

First, there are the toy makers.  They have Web 2.0 on the brain, want nothing more than to get on Arrington’s good side.  Although they may recognize that semweb is a platform for a new generation of applications, they act like they’re just another cool toy.  Unfortunately, most of the well-known semweb companies have fallen into this trap.  Instead of envisioning the transition scene in "2001" from the armed ape to the armed space station, they tend to see life as an endless series of cool toys.  Some playing this game view it as a bottom-up approach, enabling teams to do as they please to increase their productivity; I, however, view it as a "Bottoms up!!" approach.  Good CIOs/CFOs kill this sort of anarchy.  If being 37signals or Zoho is your life dream, then so be it.  To me, they’re still toys.

Second, there is the option of learning to play the game, the enterprise game.  This means real sales people, not 20-somethings who think they can sell.  It also means learning to play nice with other enterprise software, building alliances, and developing channels.   This means playing to the Oracle, Tibco, BEA, IBM and/or Microsoft stacks, for one thing.  It also means real sales, licensing revenues, not just advertising revenues.  Welcome to the real world.

Finally, there are those (still mostly in academia) pushing what can be done with large(r)-scale deployments and within more complex environments (e.g., PLM).  I’d argue that this is a greenfield opportunity for both software developers and solution providers.  EDS, are you listening?

There are variations on these basic themes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  For example, Twine’s CTO & VP of Engineering, Lew Tucker, was running AppExchange at Salesforce.com.  This, of course, translates to SaaS, and it’s not hard to imagine that Twine will remain a SaaS (software as a service) solution for at least a while.  And Lew, with his background at Sun, is the perfect person to match virtualization with SaaS – an absolute necessity when Twine goes out of beta.

Let me go one step further and suggest that this is a fourth option, i.e., combining SaaS, virtualization, SOA and maybe even open source software.  I’ve been examining this type of solution "set" for the past three years and it seems like a perfectly viable offering.  There is a potential can of worms with each part of this set, and there’s no magic bullet offering.  And as with the second option, there are a lot of the same players, the so-called "Master Brands," that may have to be dealt with, this time including Amazon and Google in addition to Cisco and (of course) Salesforce.com.  However, I would view this as a perfectly viable path, perhaps even the best path for most semweb start-ups.

Bottom line: Enterprise 2.0 was a lot about CRM, a tad bit about HRM.  Enterprise 3.0, with a semweb foundation, will be much more about knowledge discovery … and everything this can possibly mean.  In many ways, it’s a whole new web, and a web with whole new apps.

Based and living in China for the past four years (both in Beijing and Qingdao), David Scott Lewis is SVP with Startech Global Corporation, the outsourcing hub for Tsinghua University (China’s MIT and Hu Jintao’s alma mater) and Zytech Solar, a Going Green 100 winner.

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