Raw Data Now! Raw Data Now! Raw Data Now!

This is the phrase Tim Berners-Lee made the audience chant at his recent TED talk. I recommend you watch the video if you want to really understand why he did it.

I’ve been trying to understand my frustration with all things online. I think I’m starting to get somewhere. You see, we’re stuck. We’ve come about as far as we can with the current state of the Web. We know how to connect, we know how to communicate, market, brand and sell in this space. Now we’re out there teaching others how to do it too. We’re doing a pretty good job of it, and lots of people are catching on to the power of this new medium. Sure, we’re still working out the kinks. But we’re getting there.

To alleviate some of my boredom with social media, I’ve started thinking a lot about data, and about how to make information more meaningful. You see, it’s all fine and well that we have this wonderful Web with billions of pages of information. We have communities, and connectedness, and the ability to access nearly anything or anyone at the push of a button. But there are still really simple things we can’t do.

Imagine if you will…

You love the musician Beck. You go to his web site. You click a single button that says “Buy Tickets”. The site  knows what city you live in. It compares your Google calendar to the concert schedule. It discovers that Beck is playing in your city on August 18th and it just so happens you are available that day. It buys two tickets, sends you a confirmation, and inserts the event into your calendar on your behalf. It does all of this in one click.

Here’s one my students came up with…I added the shopping list bit.

You are surfing on Flickr and come across a picture of the most delicious looking chocolate cake you’ve ever seen. You want the recipe. You click on the photo, and up pops a list of recipes for chocolate cake. You choose your preferred recipe and the ingredients list is then placed in your shopping list tool on your iPhone. Don’t want to bake? Then just choose to have the cake custom made at your local bakery. The order gets sent directly to them, and all you need to do is go pick it up.

The Web, in all it’s glory, cannot perform these simple tasks in it’s current iteration. But it’s possible. And it will happen. What do we need to achieve this? Well, as Berners-Lee says, we need people to start releasing their data. By people, he means governments, corporations, organizations, and individuals.

Of course as soon as anyone starts pushing around ideas about releasing data people’s backs go up. They get defensive. They don’t want to give away secrets. They want to hang on to everything and share nothing.

But sharing data is what is going to make this new Web possible.

We are already good at sharing, right? We share on our blogs, we share on Twitter, we share links, contact info, we share what we know about stuff, and so on. So, it stands to reason then that we should already feel comfortable with sharing our data?

Making sense of information is going to be the next big step for the Web. As much as the onset of new media has revolutionized the way we interact, making meaning out of the Web will change things even more.

So, where do we begin?