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Web 3.0 offers new customer insights

Web 3.0 will convey customer opinions more accurately, but companies must adapt new ways to collect this data, says former Amazon.com chief scientist.

Forget Web 2.0--we are now in the Web 3.0 age, according to Andreas Weigend.

Weigend, who previously served as Amazon.com's chief scientist, said the Web, which went from a one-way communication channel to holding user-generated content in its "2.0" iteration, is now "3.0", where people are using it to exchange dialog.

More specifically, this dialog is moving beyond just text and resembling real life communications more, he said. Weigend named examples of non-verbal communication in real life such as gestures and body language. This is increasingly mirrored online with "gestures" such as "poking" and "nudging" that can convey emotions beyond plain text, he told ZDNet Asia in an interview.

As a result of this evolution, people are creating more dialog online because it no longer requires a large effort to put one's opinion across, he said.

"It used to be that the Web was either about big gestures or no gestures. If you wanted to say something, you'd have to structure a proper response, like an e-mail; if you didn't have anything big to say, then you would make no gesture," he said.

Because of the way that social networking sites online are allowing people to send small elements of communication such as "pokes", which do not require a large effort, communication online is richer and fuller as a result of these lowered barriers, he explained.

The customer's voice within Web 3.0
This "richer and fuller" communication taking place online is a "goldmine" for companies that are interested in getting "genuine feedback", said Weigend.

Often, this feedback is more accurate to the nuances in customer opinion than commissioned surveys--and cheaper to harness, he added. Commissioned surveys tend to force answers into the questions that are asked, and this sometimes presents a skewed version of reality to companies.

"If companies can listen--really listen--to the conversation people are having on the Internet about them, they can improve service offerings. And customers will feel like they are having a personal relationship with companies if their small requests are heard.

"Do you fear what people say online? Or do you hire an intern to dig out a negative video on YouTube about your service so you can find out what is the real service your customers are getting? Companies have to shift their mindsets to see Web 3.0 as an opportunity, not a threat," he said.

Weigend offered the example of a "direct relationship" a carrier can have with customers: to improve service coverage, carriers typically analyze data to find out where call quality is poorest on a map; A "Web 3.0" alternative would be to ask users to place pins on an online map.

Higher data processing costs
However, the flip side to Web 3.0 lowering barriers of communication is the growing cacophony online.

Weigend expects the increasing rate of participation from netizens to hike up the cost of processing data collection, because of the added "noise".

Eventually, companies will have to look at the metadata--information about data--such as tagging and categories to help sift out what is important.

"We have come full circle since the introduction of the printing press to the media industry. In the past, people gathered information by conversation. When the printing press came, it was a one-way broadcast.

"Now, we are going back to the traditional marketplace, where there is direct dialog between buyers and sellers," said Weigend.

Weigend was in Singapore as a guest of the Shaw Foundation Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series, which was held at the Singapore Management University on Thursday.