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Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business Hardcover – Jan 12 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover; 1 edition (Jan. 12 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591842778
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591842774
  • Product Dimensions: 3 x 16.2 x 23.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 540 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #445,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David Wineberg TOP 100 REVIEWER on Jan. 31 2010
Format: Hardcover
What I really like about Pull is that not only does Siegel explain the Next Big Thing, but he shows us exactly how it will benefit us in dozens of different domains. So unlike some other books, this is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. It is all very real, under development, test and deployment right now, and very accessible. (I just read about Cisco now using its entire 45,000 staff as an alpha for its healthcare systems - systems straight out of Pull!) It's a fun read if you want a glimpse of how you are in fact going to live in the not too distant future.

It never occurred to your grandparents that they would ever own two cars. It never occurred to your parents that they would carry mobile phones everywhere. It never occurred to us that nearly every room would have a computer in it. Now Pull shows you an engaging and enormously useful set of tools for the future. For entrepreneurs, it's a heads-up. For the rest of us, it's a well written, worthwhile book.
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Format: Hardcover
Most of my technology and business book purchases revolve around practical advice and information on specific patterns and applications. This book was a bit of a stretch for me, but now that I've finished it, I'm really happy I made the effort. It's an easy, interesting read that at first seems to be fiction, but it's far from that: this is a reality that is happening right now (which I knew and already use, but this confirms it). I encourage anyone who is interested in business/technology strategy to buy Pull and open their minds to fresh approaches and ideas.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 56 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Lots of hype but not much clarity Jan. 12 2011
By Yaron - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
As someone involved with the Semantic Web (I'm a developer on the Semantic MediaWiki project), I was naturally quite curious about this book. There's been so much vague, buzzword-y and contradictory hype about the Semantic Web that the time is ripe for a book that cuts through the BS in clear language, and still manages to make a compelling case for the Semantic Web. David Siegel's "Pull" is not that book - it ignores the ambiguity that currently exists, and adds some more of its own. This is a book that often sacrifices clarity for hype.

Despite the subtitle, the basic idea of "Pull" is not actually about the Semantic Web at all: it's that, in the future, the services and products we use will know everything they need to about us - so that, for example, when we enter a hospital, the systems there will already know our complete medical history. In the book's parlance, each device or process "pulls" the necessary information to it, rather than requiring us to "push" the data - and the source of the information will be some sort of personal online "data locker" that each of us owns. It's hardly a new idea - variations of it a staple of speculative magazine articles for maybe 20 years; and I'm even aware of some failed '90s startups that tried to do a subset of it, like online "agents" that make purchases for you. Which is not to say that all of this stuff won't happen, of course; but it's an indication that there's no guarantee that any of it will come any time soon.

The new idea in the book is that the Semantic Web will be the thing that brings us to that point. But the way Siegel defines "Semantic Web", that's basically a tautology. He uses the term to refer to any set of data that is contained in a standard, non-ambiguous format, and is available online. Well, if you have distributed smart devices and services, they're going to have to send data back and forth with other systems - and if so, the data would have to be in a standard, non-ambiguous format, and sent over a network. It's really just a restatement of one of the challenges involved (though hardly the only one). And the concept of more-universal formats for communication, too, is a fairly old one - the book's description of a sort of global language of data closely resembles a lot of the hype around XML that emerged in around 1997. In fact, some of the projects Siegel mentions simply *are* XML, like XBRL, the business-based XML format that makes financial reporting easier to process. It looks like a case of existing technology being rebranded to fit the new buzzwords.

To add further to the confusion, some parts of the book have nothing to do with either "pull" or the "Semantic Web", but seem intended just to champion Siegel's pet causes, or maybe just to pad out the book - like his praise for replacing the income tax with the FairTax national sales tax, and his discussion of "robotic ants" that, in the future, will crawl around your house to check the wiring. The connection seems to be that, like smart devices, these innovations will make your life easier - but if so, maybe he should have just called the book "Ease".

For a book as nebulous as this one, it still manages to get a lot of technical details wrong. To give two examples: it confuses "data" with "metadata" - a pet peeve of mine; contrary to the book's description, a business card doesn't hold metadata, just regular data. And the book mentions my project, Semantic MediaWiki, as well as a somewhat related project, Freebase - but only for long enough to refer to them both - incorrectly, in both cases - as "Wikipedia-based efforts".

"Pull" quotes from Bill Gates' 1995 book "The Road Ahead", and one of the review blurbs compares "Pull" to that book - which is unintentionally appropriate here, because "The Road Ahead" is a cautionary lesson in the dangers of techno-futurism. Gates' book covered some of the same ground as "Pull" - smart houses and all that - but gave only brief mention to the World Wide Web, at least in its first printing. It's only a year after "Pull" was published, and already one can see it headed for a similar fate. Siegel advises Apple to get out of the computer-hardware business and into the data business: this was four months before the launch of the iPad. He also writes, "I expect Google Squared and WolframAlpha to be quite popular by the time you read this." Both currently languish in (semi-)obscurity, after some initial buzz. And he lavishes praise on other projects that have failed to get much excitement elsewhere, like NEPOMUK, LarKC and UMBEL. If you're reading this review more than a year or two after the time of this writing, it could be that one or more of those names have become a bigger deal - I doubt it, but unlike Siegel, I don't claim to be well-acquainted with the future.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Interesting and comprehensive but lacking in some key ways June 22 2010
By John D. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I enjoyed this book and have recommended it to others, I can only give it 3 stars. It merits another half-star but I couldn't honestly give it 4 stars.

First, the good. This is a clearly written, non-technical introduction to the "semantic web" in its broadest sense. The author's vision extends beyond semantically enriching the current web to a world where metadata about everything is unambiguous and available on the web in standard, royalty-free formats. "Pull" refers to how this data will be readily available for users and applications. We won't have to go retrieve it explicitly; instead, "we automatically get what we need when we need it" (p. 11).

Much of the book elaborates on numerous companies and efforts to make this the case. Although they all fall short in some way, Siegel argues that they are headed in the right direction and that realizing this vision will increase efficiency in many areas and open up whole new opportunities (e.g. in retail, healthcare, financial reporting and compliance, etc). If you're looking for a comprehensive overview of how semantic technologies are gaining ground, I would recommend the first section of his book.

In the world where all this data is interconnected your personal data will be pulled from what Siegel calls your "personal data locker". It will hold your identifying information and financial credentials as well as various bits of personal information, such as information about your allergies and airline seating preferences. With your permission your bank would pull data about your credentials to provide you with your balance and a restaurant would pull allergy information so they wouldn't serve you food that would make you sick. Your data locker might also contain data about what you're interested in buying (like a car) and for how much, data that somebody could pull in order generate an offer your data locker would pull based on preferences you've set.

While the data locker concept is compelling and developed in detail, Siegel overlooks or gives short attention to two obvious major issues. The first is fraud. As our lives become more entwined with semantically rich data "out there in the cloud" how can we be sure that content is protected from misuse? Siegel says little of value here except to urge caution in sharing our data. He notes that as security and protections increase criminals will have to become more advanced, but he overlooks the fact that the consequences of breaching a centralized representation of one's entire personal data store could be catastrophic.

One also has to wonder how this data locker will persist. Will it have the portability that mobile numbers have (remember what a burden number portability was going to be and how the carriers resisted it)? Will it be controlled by the government or an enterprise that isn't out to profit off you? The most likely scenario is that, much like e-mail services, it will be held as a free service by at least more than one technology giant that will be under pressure to share this data in a limited way that you presumably control. Siegel doesn't address this very plausible scenario nor the likely problems, and history shows that we're often not told the full details on how our personal information might be shared.

All of this aside, my central criticism of Siegel's book and the reason that I gave it 3 stars is that he commits what I call "The Big Ontology Fallacy". The fallacy is to assume that once you have all this metadata open and available, that once your ontological representation is rich and comprehensive enough, that everything else just falls into place. But semantically connected data is simply a better data representation. The processes and infrastructure that will pull this data and utilize it are just as complex. Better metadata doesn't pull itself.

This is important because a book that aims to convince businesses leaders of the value of making relevant data available in an open and unambiguous format should speak to all aspects of this effort. What often happens is that they see the value in the open and available data portion without realizing the massive effort required to build all the applications that will use this data, and once this happens ideas like the data locker seem hopelessly far-fetched. I wish Siegel had said more about this other component because in my experience it is a significant barrier to getting businesses to move in the direction he advocates.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Heads Up for Entrepreneurs! Dec 31 2009
By David Wineberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
What I really like about Pull is that not only does Siegel explain the Next Big Thing, but he shows us exactly how it will benefit us in dozens of different domains. So unlike some other books, this is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. It is all very real, under development, test and deployment right now, and very accessible. (I just read about Cisco now using its entire 45,000 staff as an alpha for its healthcare systems - systems straight out of Pull!) It's a fun read if you want a glimpse of how you are in fact going to live in the not too distant future.

It never occurred to your grandparents that they would ever own two cars. It never occurred to your parents that they would carry mobile phones everywhere. It never occurred to us that nearly every room would have a computer in it. Now Pull shows you an engaging and enormously useful set of tools for the future. For entrepreneurs, it's a heads-up. For the rest of us, it's a well written, worthwhile book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Push is based on process, PULL is based on outcomes Aug. 7 2010
By vpbeerman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It seems the debate over the Semantic Web is all about semantics. Most of the critical reviews written about David Siegel's Pull argue over the definition of `Semantic Web' more than they critique his book. Or they suggest that he has gone too far in imagining the future of the Web. Given he doesn't put timeframes on his predictions, and the world is notorious for underestimating what technology will make possible, I find this a hollow argument as well.

I strongly agree with Siegel's first premise: "Today, the information ecosystem is a loosely connected, ad hoc collage of data that generally doesn't work very hard. It is complete with partners, predators, and parasites."

Rather than diving into the debate over Ontologies and Artificial Intelligence, Siegel recommends a more flexible definition of the Semantic Web - "a new way of packaging information to make it much more useful and reusable... unambiguous, tagged in a royalty-free format, governed by a nonprofit org, that all software can understand." If you think this is a good idea, you should read his book.

Siegel goes on to paint a picture of a future where this `unambiguous, tagged metadata' will enhance our everyday lives by dramatically improving processes from retail and tax collection to manufacturing and garage sales. However distant some of these realities may be, entrepreneurs and executives alike should monitor these trends.

Clay Shirky offers this clear-headed assessment in his essay: The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview: "Much of the proposed value of the Semantic Web is coming, but it is not coming because of the Semantic Web. The amount of meta-data we generate is increasing dramatically, and it is being exposed for consumption by machines as well as, or instead of, people. But it is being designed a bit at a time, out of self-interest and without regard for global ontology. It is also being adopted piecemeal, and it will bring with it with all the incompatibilities and complexities that implies. There are significant disadvantages to this process relative to the shining vision of the Semantic Web, but the big advantage of this bottom-up design and adoption is that it is actually working now."

Whatever your opinions on the exactitudes of the Semantic Web, I think most of us can see that "we're about to go through a disruptive period where customers can see all offers and gather deep industry intelligence as easily as the most seasoned industry insider," albeit as Shirky points out `a bit at a time, out of self-interest.'

Ubiquitous, unfettered access to unambiguous information is what Pull is all about, and "pull" leads to performance. In the "performance economy," your company's economics are aligned with your customers'. "Push is based on process, pull is based on outcomes."

The most encouraging conclusion I drew from Pull is that data tagging gives people around the world a chance to participate in the globally connected, interdependent economy. Even with limited training and a mobile phone, anyone can tag data, from anywhere. "The only person who can categorize everything is everybody." - Clay Shirky

Don't get caught up in semantics. Read Pull with an open mind and think of what YOU can create, today and tomorrow, with the tools and tagged data of the Semantic Web.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The Semantic-Web is Coming Jan. 4 2010
By Holger Buerger - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The book is full of great information on how the Semantic Web will shape the next generation of the web in which we will stop pushing information but rather pull the information from the various product or service provider.

I was looking for something that explains the Semantic Web more from a strategic rather then a technical perspective. This book really helped me to understand how the Semantic Web can be applied. There are numerous real-live examples. From shipping products to health-care, tax, real estate, financial data (XBRL), search & security - everywhere you will find examples of businesses that already use or transition to the Semantic-Web.

This book was a great read and I highly recommend it for everyone interested in this topic.

Thanks,

HB

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