In electronics though, the switch is the star. With a switch, you can modify and route information; with a wire you can only send it from one point to another. You need good switches to make a computer or a network; even though photons are faster and easier to move from one place to another, computers are still based on electrons because electronic switches are so much better than optical switches.
Linked Data is a label for a set of technologies that are trying to make information move around the internet more easily and with more meaning. The Linked Data vision is one where many entities acting cooperatively and globally create a web of data much more powerful and meaningful than any single entity could bring about.
For the Linked Data vision to become a reality, each entity must have a strong motivation to cooperate; each entity must have a viable business model. If the business models were easy, the Linked Data vision would already be a vibrant reality.
Scott Brinker recently launched a round of discussion about seven business models that can make Linked Data viable. Leigh Dodds contributed some important insights in his followup, prompting Brinker to add an eighth model.
Here are Brinker's eight business models for Linked Data (somewhat relabeled based on who's writing checks):
- Subsidy. Entities such as governments with a mandate to make information available will pay to have it linked into a global web of information.
- Subscription. People will pay for valuable data, and will pay more for data that has been linked to a global web of information.
- Advertising. Advertisers will pay to information in raw data feeds.
- Authority. People will pay for the validation and certification of data.
- Affiliate marketing. Merchants will pay sales commissions on sales resulting from affiliate links in embedded in the global web of data
- Service Enhancement. People will pay for services which have been enhanced by data from a global web.
- Search Engine Optimization. Search engines will send you more traffic if you give them more meaningful data.
- Brand Enhancement. Your reputation will be burnished if you emit lots of good information.
There are difficulties with all of these business models, but it strikes me that each of them will only work in one direction, like a train track without switches. Either they work for emitting data, or they work for consuming data, but none of the models work in both directions at the same time. If you're providing a service that's either based on Linked Data or enhanced by it, you can pay for the data, but if you send that data back out, your competitors get the data for free. Conversely, if you're emitting data, it's hard for you to pay for it.
Imagine you're in the book metadata business. You can use several of these models to support creation of book metadata, or you can consume book-related metadata to provide book-related services. But what if you want to support an activity of aggregating book data or fixing errors in book metadata? None of these models will work for you because you'll either be competing with the entities you get data from, or you'll be competing with entities you send data to.
What's missing from this list is a business model for the Linked Data switch. Entities that take in Linked Data, improve it or otherwise add value and reemit it as Linked Data have no solid business model to run on. Everyone active so far in the Linked Data business is either a data sink or a data source. To realize the full potential of Linked Data, there need to be viable switches, both collecting and emitting Linked Data.