I couldn't have said it better myself. The combination of Seb and Jonathan is an incredible marketing team! More comments below…..
Structured blogging: first steps. In Towards Structured Blogging I wrote about how blogging tools ought to evolve in a way that allows structured data – such as product reviews – to creep in. Stefan Smalla had similar thoughts around the same time. Marc, ever the true believer in the value of extensions to the blogging paradigm, has been pushing those ideas as hard as he could for quite some time.
Assuming people increasingly care about controlling their own content, such a development could (among other things) help build a decentralized, open store of product reviews which might in the long run prove disruptive to centralized review repositories such as Amazon and epinions – just as the advent of personal blogging tools undermines the viability of weblog clusters such as kuro5hin.org.
Alf Eaton quickly jumped on the idea, building the blam/blaxm duo prototype and later proposing the RVW format. Now, an important development has just taken place: the Blogware blogging tool now supports open reviews. Gary, Alf, Roland, and Marc have written about it, but I think Jonathan Peterson has the clearest story:
Blogware has implemented Reviews and Review metadata in their tool. RVW was already supported as a MovableType plug-in, and through the Blam! publishing tool, which I've been using on Way.Nu for quite a while; but it's inclusion in the “standard load” of Blogware should help speed the growth of the standard.
The RVW specification is a module extension to the RSS 2.0 syndication format. RVW is intended to allow machine-readable reviews to be integrated into an RSS feed, thus allowing Reviews to be automatically compiled from distributed sources. In other words, you can write book, restaurant, movie, product, etc. Reviews inside your own website, while allowing them to be used by Amazon or other Review aggregators.
There should be more than enough RVW metadata out there floating around at this point. The next step is for someone to build a decent aggregator that coallates Reviews of a particular topic or two within particular regions or globally. Because of RVW, creating aggregate rating scores and summarizing opinions should be very straightforward. It's really not in the best interests of Amazon, epinions and the like to loose control of their Review content, but RVW makes controlling Review content impossible in the long term. Anyone got some pull at the Google skunkworks?
Check out Accordion Guy for a detailed walkthrough. I think most people, however well-intentioned, won't have the patience to fill up all the fields by themselves, so I presume the obvious next step would be to enable many of the input fields to be filled automatically by using metadatabase queries. (See the part about Musicbrainz in “Towards structured blogging”, and check out how blam gets by with as little as one ISBN number.)
Extrapolating from there, here's what things might look like a few years from now: Blogging tools have become more general in terms of what they produce. Basically they've become a personal publishing interface onto which users can choose to hook a variety of structured item types. A diversity of item types has sprung up; the most popular ones are included by default with weblog tools. Lifting item types from someone else's blog is trivial; creating new ones is only slightly harder.
Third-party harvesters (Technorati next-gen?) scurry around and compete with one another to provide meaningful views of the data. In the case of item types that describe reviews, overall average ratings on any particular product are easy to look up. However, if you choose to provide a description of your personal web of trust to those interfaces (think of blogrolls as a proto-example), you can efficiently get a sense of what your tribe of like-minded individuals thinks of that product. It's the microblogosphere idea again – look up Recommender systems and the microblogosphere for more.
OK – so let me see what I can add:
– there WILL be new kinds of aggregators day one, which will support this stuff. Our digital lifestyle aggregator product “PeopleAggregator.com” sure will!
– if ePinions was smart – they'd embrace this trend and lead us forward. The other data silos ofReviews (Rotten Tomatoes, Launch, IMDb, AllConsuming, Fodors, etc.) should all join in – too!
– more technically complex issues like reputation, trust, etc. have been called for – but we should wait till be get the distributed net infrastructure of shared servers up and running. And the technique for sharing should be thought of as “shared clouds” – just like Matt and Paolo do with their shared k-collector Topic clouds.
– as far as filling out all those data fields – I hope that this is a persistently stored medium – that is, anybody can go back to any Reviews THEY wrote – and update, edit, fill in, flesh out, etc. Why should it be a publish and live with it – effect? Reviews need to be updated! JIT!