November 24, 2003
Fine-tuning the Whirlpool Rap
A day before the conference started, I was sitting in the whirlpool at the Sundial reading Practical RDF by Shelley Powers with a highlighter. I was pretty focused on the book, so I didn’t notice the four people that joined me in the whirlpool while I read. I looked up after a while and began being more friendly … they were all Americans, and all on vacation. After we talked for a while, the man across from me asked, “What’s the twenty second rundown on RDF.” Apparently he had worked in IT before he retired, and geniunely wanted to know.
Twenty seconds to explain RDF? In the company of Non-Technical Types?
While daunted, I launched right in: “You know when you’re searching for something on Google, and you type in ‘whirlpool’ hoping to find out more about whirlpools (gesturing around us), but instead you get back stuff on the company Whirlpool and its products?” (Emphatic nodding all around) “Well, that’s because Google and other search engines are looking at just the text people read on the websites. There’s no classification system, no Dewey Decimal System. RDF lets people who make websites specify things more clearly under the hood, so people can later say, ‘I want water whirlpools’ and it won’t even look at microwave ovens.”
Yes, this is oversimplified, but it apparently worked. The four of them kept asking me questions for another twenty minutes. I told them about the conference, and what it was about, and the keynote on the last day, by the inventor of the Web (“Oh, you mean Al Gore?”). Everyone was very interested, and I didn’t once have to say the word “ontology.”
I may be a bit biased towards non-technical end-users, as evidenced by the current products we’re building, which are firmly on the “Granny” side of the “Granny/Guru” scale. But there’s one thing the marketer in me knows: until you can explain things in a whirlpool to people who think branches are where people do their banking and loops are what they have in the best rollercoasters, then you’ve got a real opportunity to simplify your message.
As several people said during the conference, it’s our job to evangelize this stuff as well as build it. As such, I’ll write this blog so “the rest of us” can figure out what the fuss is about.