Setting the State for the Intention Web

The powerful idea of the intent-based web is extremely convenient to me. I stumbled across it at a ReadWriteWeb post about the Future as Platform, which I can strongly recommend by the way because of the always very well-written and deeply analyzed writings. Although it has been widely discussed already, I would like to address it from my point of view and give it some more thought.

The intention web is about publishing an anticipated goal on the Web. As Jeremiah Owyang notes in his original blog about the intention web, it is particularly with event planning features, like Facebook events, and services like upcoming.org, Dopplr and TripIt that people are explicitly making public what they want to do, when and with who. In fact, people are sharing their calendars, which in turn allows them to see who in their social circles go to the same events. This is where businesses come in, because this allows them to enrich their experience, by for example offering highly contextualized offerings or prospects.

Galileo Galilei once said: “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” I don’t know who discovered it, but let it be clear that the intention economy on the Web is not new. The concept is very powerful though, just read this intention broadcasting paper. Recently, Mark Hendrickson, former Techcrunch writer has also started exploring this area. His new company Plancast really seems to get it. What Plancast does is basically pulling all intent data you already have shared, like your Facebook events you did RVSP for. However, it’s not only about events. If you are planning to go to a hairdresser, you are mostly not creating a new event. This process should be simpler and you should be able to share plans at a more granular level as well. That’s why Plancast allows you to easily broadcast your upcoming plans which include, what, where, and when.

All the released data can then be used to generate predictions of what we will do next — by applying data mining techniques — although it has not happened yet. For customers this means that they will be provided with contextualized experiences. This will allow them to improve the way they work, schedule and organize.

Thanks to the intention web, companies can anticipate their customers needs.Through brand monitoring, companies are able to make better predictions on what could happen. What do people plan to buy on Twitter? you could easily monitor that. Contextualized marketing may be offered and new prospects could be identified. Think about applications in the field of yield management like hotel or airline deals. Also, think about what this could mean in supply chain management, by increasing forecasting efficiency. And as a result, they are able to increase or decrease inventory or store hours to accommodate and align better with packaging and retailing. This has an indirect impact on waiting lines as well, because everything can be simulated using the discovered statistical patterns. Finally, since customer behavior is — to a certain extent — also predictable because we know not only their intentions but often historical data is available that could be coupled with these intentions. This is the implicit way, deriving intents from gestures, context and historical data in contrary to the explicit way of saying what you are up to on for example Plancast. As such, patterns can be discovered so that risks could be identified and mitigated. In the end, it all comes down to a better service quality.

Why is the intent-based web so powerful? We have been sharing our calendars for a long time, but through a variety of seperate applications like Google Calendar. When we are able to pull that information, we get tremendous value. “Control doesn’t scale”, David Weinberger would say. What does scale, is the Web, which businesses should nurture.

Essentialy the concept is about observing and listening to the customer. The “cones diagram” below, presented at Design By Fire 2009, and used by the Dopplr team as metaphor, is a very good illustration about  the dimensions — space, time, past and future — of the intention web.

Zipipop’s intention broadcasting model says it all:

Another thing I was thinking about is the following. When you have a plan, you have a target. A goal is set. How are you going to reach this goal? When these goals are publicly available, services like Dorthy can help you find ways to achieve your goal. You get personalized results from other smart users, just like Aardvark is a people-powered searchengine that answers your questions. Therefore, I think there is a lot of  opportunity in the guidance process. And with the rise of emerging technologies, don’t be surprised that in the future your groceries will already be there when you enter a shop.

However, the principles of the intent-based web impose some challenges to overcome for both customers and businesses. One thing is privacy and personal security. Most people are very reluctant towards this open behavior. Consider for example the Please Rob Me initiative that want to raise awareness on online privacy related issues. What are the right incentives to motivate users to adopt this behavior of sharing their goals? Another thing is the accuracy of this data. There’s one certainty in life, which is that the future is always uncertain.

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