Semiotics 4.0 as the universal language?

Stephen Wolfram in search for universal language in light of Artificial Intelligence.

Stephen Wolfram in search for universal language in light of Artificial Intelligence.

Information & Communication. Machines & Humans. Is it truly that distinct?

In an upcoming book we’ll argue it is not. We believe Semiotics 4.0 bridges this gap. With the introduction of Semiotics 4.0, there might be a new ‘universal language’ that ties all other languages (of all distinct knowledge domains) together. Semiotics 4.0 is conceived as a language that allows to understand matter, mind and machine.

Semiotics 4.0 aims to integrate traditional semiotics (as a communication science, rooted in information theory) with so-called computer semiotics, computational semiotics.

Through this new framework called “Semiotics 4.0”, we’ll explain how one gets from a digital signal to a human-like sign. This analysis raises immediate interesting questions such as:

  • “is the brain a computer?”
  • “is the man a machine?”
  • “when and how shall machines be human?”
  • “can we make true artificial intelligence happen via semiotic models?”

Furthermore, what are the implications for concepts such as “intelligence”, “consciousness”, “the self”, “the mind”? And can we get rid of (human-computer) interfaces in this manner? Will it speed up a cyborg world? How far from paranormal sign-reading (or even the puzzling concept ‘singularity’) is all this?

The above questions get an answer in the book.

Semiotics 4.0: the universal language? A book. 

I have to say, writing a book is always something I believed I would do some day. I believe the time is now. After all, this “Semiotics 4.0”-thingy has been evolving in my head over the last year. Mind, the word evolve. It was something that gradually grasped me. And it intrigued me. Today I believe the only way forward is to write all of that stuff down so that I can share it with other people.

As with every good research project, one starts by looking at current knowledge in a specific domain. Since Semiotics is by its very nature rather multi-domain, we have to investigate multiple domains. After all, we’re looking for a language that helps to explain matter, machines and (human) minds.

To get started, I created a book with related and relevant papers on the subject to read at the beach during my summer holidays. Unfortunately, during that stay, I didn’t take the time to look at my “personalized holiday literature book”. But the topics however kept popping up in my mind from time and time again. I started reading those papers recently and it encouraged me in creating Semiotics 4.0 .

Stay tuned, if you believe the below papers are interesting! Analysing them might end up in new post.

Literature Review Semiotics.

Initial list to kick-off Literature Review Semiotics.

Note: this is not my entire reading list. It seemed to me those papers were of that importance that I needed to print them. Mostly I read things online. But for more difficult pieces, paper is required (also because it allows me to mark up, annotate, etc.).
For those interested in the literature I’ve gathered and reviewing in this domain, or for anyone finding this interesting enough to collaborate, just hit me.

Designing Trust through Marketing Systems.  

I feel most marketing isn’t driven by the right intentions. Marketing these days is hardly involved with the concept of trust. Trust however is at the core of the relationship organizations and brands build with customers. Trust should be at the core of marketing.

People buy a product or use a service from an organization firstly because they genuinely believe the product will help them in one way or another to achieve a goal. This trust makes them a (paying) customer. Without trust, there’s not a chance that people will hand over their money.

Trust is mostly build through experiences with the organization: the things their latest blog posts state, a talk with a representative over the phone, the newsletter announcing the store promotions, an in-store experience, etc. All these touch points help to construct trust.

Over the last decade, we saw a huge rise in the amount of touch points. Just think about all the social media and messaging apps that brands and organizations started to use for many reasons. The number of touchpoints is increasing and will continue to rise in the future.

Wearables and other ‘internet-of-thing’-products will continue to shape a maze of connected touch points. Some of those will connect man with machine. Other solutions will connect machines to machines . But this impacts the human experience massively. And this is exactly what happens in the space of automation.

The human-machine interface disappears. Machines do the interpretation work and allows for the human to be at ease or to focus on other things. One could even state “the less UX, the better the CX” – thereby meaning that when the user experience (human-machine interaction) is downscaled to a minimum because of automation (machine-to-machine), the experience of the human being as such is smoother, easier and hence better.

When looking at the above, one needs to see that marketing should alter its motivation and how it approaches its domain. The motivation is to build trust.

The approach is to build trust through customer experiences in an interconnected system of touch points. This equally means that marketing is about system thinking, interaction/persuasion/service design, behavioural design and business model innovation.

Touch points are specifically designed to have a function within a larger system. It requires a holistic and strategic view upon the customer journey and touch point interactions. Marketing is about people’s behavior. Mostly you want them to buy something. But today people only buy from trusted sources. How to become a trusted brand or organization?

Marketing is customer experience and customer experience builds trust

Marketing’s motivation is to build trust with people so to spark a relationship that might end up in a recurring and paying loyal customer.

Trust isn’t built overnight. The number one marketing tool has always been advertising. The problem with advertising is that ads aren’t trusted by default these days. Ad-blocking is the new normal. But if I look at the postal boxes in my street, asking not to get any ads has always been the default. (pas de pub sticker). The same counts for so-called “marketing campaigns”. Marketing shouldn’t be about campaigning. Marketing should be about behavioural design and especially for a system of interactions that build trust.

Now, you might think that going inbound and content marketing is the right way to generate trust. That’s OK but there are plenty of pitfalls to this approach tough. Be aware that you truly understand and take that new approach, not an old one on new digital channels.

Regardless of the fact that a product or service is aimed at a consumer or a business (B2B, B2C), the goal is to design a system that resonates and generates trust with humans.

Designing a marketing system for trust is the new marketing plan. The new marketing plan designs and engineers a behavioural system of interaction for persuasion to trust the brand or organization.

Be aware that the layer on top of the marketing system is the core value / core message / core story of the organization or brand. “Stick to the brand promise. “ But make sure that brand promise is purpose-driven. Having a purpose, standing for something is very important to build trust.

Speaks for itself that consequently the goal of the holistic marketing system is to grow the business by growing new customers, keeping happy and loyal customers.

The first step in this “marketing plan 2.0” is to visualize all these (and future) touch points, their role and interactions. Next up of course is to map those with customer behaviour. Those are analyzed and reveal very interesting insights in both customers and internal processes. Furthermore, it allows to set new goals and KPI’s for each touch point. Those goals need to be realized through marketing and communication actions.

Conceiving those marketing and communication actions is a cool and creative exercise of how we can improve Trust through experiences. And that’s of course where the art and science of service design jumps in. Service design is all about the question “how can we serve our customer?” …

There’s no better question to ask when it comes down to building trust. You build trust when you help people out, when you are supportive.

For every touch point matters: the more useful for a (potential) customer, the higher the appreciation, the higher the trust, the higher the chance this human believes it worthy to give you money in exchange for your product or service.

Designing Customer Trust – mind the inside as well.

It’s not possible or very hard to build trust in the outside world (customer) if there’s no trust internally (employee engagement). After all, it is through the actions of the employees that you build trust externally.

Your brand or organization is the sum of customer’s complete experiences with the organization across all touch points. Your brand isn’t your company. It isn’t your marketing message. It isn’t even your product. It is an experience — a holistic experience a customer has with your product, your content and your employees. It is the reason to choose you over your competitor.

Some businesses have recognized this seismic shift and managing consumer experiences became not only a challenge, but a priority. But as they started to implement strategies, solutions and tools across the organization, one critical gap became widely clear.

No matter how much you try to serve your customers, if the organization is internally siloed in mentality, processes and technology, no amount of delight will ever deliver a truly holistic experience that builds customer trust.

Employee experience is the internal precondition for a solid external customer experience. Stated differently: you need engaged employees who are proud and trust in the organization that they work for before you can successfully provide customer experiences.

Building trust is about building relationship capital through smart experience management. And the only way to achieve that is for all parts of the organization to work together, to become a connected company.

How does one design engaged employees that can help building a trusted organization through internal marketing systems? In other words, what is a great environment for the next-gen employees?

A company needs to have a purpose. It needs to stand for something. Something good. That’s the role of leadership. Leaders should be able to envision the company’s purpose and communicate that through good storytelling. How else are you going to motivate the people who are actually doing the work?

When it comes down to leadership, employees trusting the leaders is absolutely key. If a leader behaves in the internal marketing system like a bastard, trust is going down. And talented people might look to work elsewhere.

Actually these things heavily define the overall company culture. In case there’s no leader able to tell a vision and a roadmap, people are not going to get the purpose. They will just show up every day, do their tasks without any further. No passion, no drive. And then the organization or brand wonders why it is so hard to keep the sales funnel fueled or whines when the competitor does something cool, or why they don’t innovate…

Talking about innovation! You often here that companies need to “act like a startup” in order to innovate? I agree, but what does it mean – to act like a startup? If you look at some startup theories, it’s really important to start from and with the people in order to form a team. Select those people correctly, make sure they understand what they are supposed to do and why, have a clear communication channel (select a technology for collaboration) and allow them to grow through Learning & Development budgets and “pivot” their business together. When it comes down to “pivoting”, it means you need to be able to communicate visions and roadmaps and willing to discuss those with others.

Visions and roadmaps are the marketing systems you need to build trust. External customer trust. Internal employer trust.

Solving Business Problems with System Thinking.

Not rarely solving a business problem comes down to being able to reframe the situation and context. Most of the time de- and reconstructing the Marketing System as a framework to build Trust shows possible solutions to a problem.

This happens through workshops, research, training and doing.

Why the Semantic Web is the future and why the future is now?

Today the web delivers information to us in the form of web pages – mainly HTML documents that are linked to one another through hyperlinks. It’s by scanning and following hyperlink after hyperlink that Google indexes and maps the entire world-wide web.

The sweet thing with HTML documents is that both humans and machines can read them. Whereas humans can read the content as such, interpret it and consequently link meaning to the words on the page, machines need to look at some clues to judge the content of a web page. Clues that SEO specialists truly understand. So they put the keywords in places where machines go looking for clues.

But as the web evolves, technologies alter. And moving beyond HTML to communicate information to machines might have a tremendous impact.
HTML is still important – and it will always be, most probably – but the importance for machine interpretation is in decline thanks to semantic technology.

The web has promised semantic for a while now, but nowadays it seems to hold true to the promise. For SEO, it means keywords are no longer the key element of SEO – as proven by Google’s default ‘not provided’ keyword parameter. The new normal for SEO is to do Semantic Web. It means marking up your content in a much more clever way then we previously did with a keyword-driven html-documents-based approach.

Semantics turns Google into both your start and endpoint of every search journey.

As happens with most searches these days, let’s start at to explain what it is about. And as happens with most searches on these days, this is exactly where your search journey ends as well. Why? Because Google provides you the things you need on its own page, not by redirecting you to a scanned page somewhere on the internet.

How do you think Google Shopping allows for online buying on Google at a retailer’s store? Or what about booking hotels and flights directly in Google? And what about the nice preview you get on your mobile phone to confirm your flight and hotel booking? Or something as simple as having your location and opening hours in Google?

Yup, Semantics. So, Hello, new SEO! What a bless that people can find you on Google and e.g. buy your service/product directly through Google, see your opening hours and location, …
Let’s take a look at two big (online) players, Lufthansa and who are already doing semantic web and giving customers a superb experience on Google platforms.
How nice are those emails? What a brilliant customer experience is this? Quite sure you want to repeat this because it makes you feel good.

Inbox - semantics @ work?

Inbox – semantics @ work?

Book hotel in Google search - Semantics at work?

Book hotel in Google search – Semantics at work?

Running an e-commerce website? Watch out for Google shopping.

Google Shopping – semantics at work?

semantics - weather & location

semantics – weather & location

Semantics at work by Ikea?

Semantics at work by Ikea?

Many applications from Google, Microsoft, Pinterest and others are already using these vocabularies to power rich, extensible experiences. It’s important for brands and corporations to offer a smooth experience from your company on the Google, Facebook and other dominant web platforms today. It means that you need to get into the semantics game.

Particularly for the “Google Discoverability Purpose”, the semantic tech at work here is seems one of the most important RDF schemes for businesses today to understand and deploy. I even would like to call it the new SEO – if only it was to build awareness by provoking., the most important Semantic Web tech today. is a community that creates, maintains and promotes schemas for structured data on the Internet, on web pages, in email messages and beyond.

The vocabulary can be used with many different encodings (RDF, microdata, JSON). Many applications from Google, Microsoft, Pinterest and others are already using these vocabularies to power rich, extensible experiences. It’s important to provide a smooth experience from your company on the Google, Facebook and other dominant web platforms otherwise you’re lost. It means that you need to get into the semantics game.

But where do semantics come from? What’s the story behind it?
Be aware: here is where I try to explain the tech behind my marketing bla bla above.

The story behind Semantic Web for machine readability.

In its very essence, semantic web, marks a shift in thinking from publishing data in human readable HTML documents to machine readable documents. The Web contains lots of information. But it’s hardly constructed from raw data. It’s marked up in HTML documents. The semantic web basically changes this core architecture of the Web.

The semantic web is a way that allows to describe models of data that can further be treated as if everything was in one database. Think of the web as one big jar of data. Think of a web page as a visualization of well-selected data from that jar. Mashup Gallore! You’ve seen it. And you’ll see it more in the future. Why does this happen now?

Why the time for Semantic Web is now.

Regardless of the fact that Semantic Web has been a topic for years now and that it did not get much traction outside the academic realms yet, the time for semantics is now:

  • artificial intelligence is coming strong and if we want to make the web work for us, we need a “language” for machines to understand. That language seems semantics.
  • internet of things is generating data and if we want machines to communicate with one another (M2M communication) and with humans, we need a language that both can understand. Hello, Semantics.
  • the growing usage of marketing automation at multiple digital touch points, makes an intelligent markup language crucial for machines to take over human activities.
  • the benefits of automated research of all data humanity has to offer on the internet…

Semantic Web: the tech side, the machine aspect

So far we did not clarify a lot. We agree. We did not do anything else than saying that the web as we know it – html pages linked via hyperlinks – is about to be replaced with a more clever way of organizing, structuring, retrieving and visualizing data and content.

Semantics is mostly defined as a “3.0 web technology” – a method of linking data between systems or entities that allows for rich, self-describing interrelations of data available across the globe.

One might think this is a rather complicated topic. However, it doesn’t have to be. The below learning curve helps you to understand what semantics is about. And how to get there from the ground up.

Semantic web learning curve

Semantic web learning curve

How to realize Semantics – a roadmap from Graph Data over RDF to Semantics.

Forget everything you know about databases. Because probably you only know hierarchical relational databases. This hierarchical architecture is what the semantic web leaves behind. It starts from a Graph Database instead of a relational and/or hierarchical database.

A graph consists of resources related to other resources, with no single resource having any particular intrinsic importance over another one. In this way, it’s easiest to understand a Graph as a visualisation of a series of statements about how things relate to each other. Let’s clarify things with a data graph example.

A Data Graph example

The below graph (or scheme if you want) actually makes several statements about two objects:

  • thing 1 has the name Bengie and has the animal type dog
    Bengie is a dog.
    thing 2 has the name Bonnie and has the animal type cat.
    Bonnie is a cat.
    Thing 1 is linked to Thing 2 through a relation “friends with”.
    Bengie and Bonnie are friends, despite being a cat and a dog.
Example of semantic graph

Example of semantic graph

Is it only me or are people also constructing meaning in this manner?

Anyway, let’s look at a method do translate this graph into something that can be used in Information technologies. Hello RDF!

RDF: the foundation of semantic web without describing the meaning (semantics) as such.

RDF is a formal manner of describing data graphs so that machines understand the structure behind the graph. An RDF statement always comes with the following 3 dimensions:

  • subject
  • property
  • object
example statement

example statement

The “triple” (subject, object, property) is the essence of RDF, the structural foundation of the semantic web.

In order to thrive in the semantic web, one needs to understand data and content within this non-hierarchical means of data modelling.

Semantic Modeling with metadata from formal vocabularies and ontologies

While the above RDF statements offer a graph-based model for recording and interchanging data globally, it doesn’t provide any clues for the meaning as such of the statements. In other words: there’s nothing semantic in yet. To include meaning, one needs common formats to collaborate. These common formats are realized through vocabulary and ontology:

  • vocabulary: terms with a well-defined meaning across contexts
  • ontology: defines contextual relations behind a defined vocabulary.

Standard vocabularies, or formal ontologies, are already available for a wide range of subjects: media terms, biomedical terms, scientific terms, etc.
For non-techies it might be the easiest to understand all this as “metadata”; data that describe the data. For SEO’ers it might be easiest to understand that “ is the new meta data in the html head section”.

The real deal: RDFS & OWL, the actual semantic techology

In order to construct meaning in RDF data, one needs to mark them up or annotate them with semantic metadata: RDFS and OWL. And it this point, we’re really talking technical shit. So I think I’ll leave it for now. In fact, I’m quite unable to further explain this. I’m a non-technical guy. But I believed this was interesting. So I researched a little bit. So, yeah, it might be, this post has errors…

The web is undergoing a massive re-architecture. It’s called Semantics.

We’ve pointed out in the introduction that Semantic is getting increasingly important to the world because of the rise of artificial intelligence, internet of things, marketing automation and so on.

But we started from a “Google / Seo” perspective because we believe it’s shows the importance of semantics in the most tangible way. SEO is about getting a good spot in the search enginge result pages for a specific keyword. Clever marketers have already noted that Google’s search engine result page is not longer a gatekeeper. It is not the start of searches. It’s also the end of searches. Making sure your product, brand, service pops up in those end pages. Intelligently mark up your bits and pieces (data, content) with

The BullShit that is called a Persona.

I’ve had some discussions now and then about personas, like here for instance (in Dutch). To clarify my statements in the linked article, and equally to explain my view in English, I’ve come up with a small slide deck that shows why I believe Personas are BS. What’s your view on the matter?

Why there’s nothing wrong with “adios amigos” tweet by KLM.

KLM worldcup tweet

KLM worldcup tweet

There’s a big debate going on amongst marketers about the stupidity of a tweet by KLM during the world cup. I have a different view. It wasn’t stupid. It was on-brand.

Humanization of Brands

I don’t get it. We’ve talked for about a decade now about the humanization of brands. We all shout out that there’s no B2C or B2B any longer but everything is H2H, human-to-human, peer-to-peer.

This consequently means brands and organizations start to act more and more as human beings, as people. Sure, you notice loads of faces on websites and other communication to show “the humanization of brands” but that’s merely “spielerei” and old school marketing trickery.

Humanization = to show personality

The humanization of brands comes down to showing a personality. Who are you? What do you stand for? How do you act? When one looks at KLM, they clearly are Dutch. It’s a genuine part of their DNA. And Dutch stands for innovation, entrepreneurship and being self-confident maybe slightly arrogant but bold and courageous without a doubt.

What you say? That’s right. Personality and identity of brands has less and less to do with logos, colours, fonts and other design elements.

Only boring personalities are loved by everyone

Just think about your social life. Do you really like everybody as much? How do you feel about politically correct people? Right, they are boring. They don’t inspire. But nobody really hates them. On the other hand, people with a vision and specific personality and identity are loved by some, hated by others.

Why the KLM tweet wasn’t stupid?

I truly believe the KLM tweet was beneficial. Apart from some Mexicans nobody was truly offended. On the other hand, it generated tons of Brand Mentions everywhere. If you didn’t know KLM before, you’ll probably do now. And do you truly believe Mexican people will not fly KLM anymore? They’ll probably do anyway. Because of the price, because of the service, because of social seat selection, etc.

So brands, it’s up to you: boring and indifference by all?
Or a human personality who’s hated by some, loved by others?

Content Marketing Canvas

I recently conceived a canvas based on the Business Model Canvas of Alex Osterwalder. It’s a great tool to use in a workshop to structure and overview your initial content marketing actions. The business model canvas seemed a logical inspiration. After all, most businesses need to think like a publisher. So they equally need to think “Media Business Models”.

Feel free to use the below tool in an interactive session. Or would you rather have a storytelling canvas because you already understand your “content marketing big picture”? Yes, a storytelling canvas exists as well.

How to outperform a Big Data competitor with Tiny & Small Data?

“We’re lost. Competition has more intelligence through their Big Data solution.”

Size doesn't matter - on data

Size doesn’t matter – on data

If you recently ran up to a marketing manager slash director slash VP Marketing, you’ll probably have heard the above sentence. And it seems to make sense at first sight. After all, there are plenty of articles stating that marketers should do Big Data or otherwise their organization will become obsolete because Big Data-driven Competitors will make them irrelevant. So if you want to sustain your marketing credibility, you better start your Big Data Project.

“You’ll win. Outperform them by using smart Small and intelligent Tiny Data.”

I disagree. Strongly. Most companies shouldn’t do Big Data. First of all because most are unable to collect them. Second, most are unable to crunch them into meaningful insights. To get to these insights, look at Small Data and Tiny Data. Small & Tiny Data are key to outperform your Big Data-driven competitor. Here’s why.

Why Tiny & Small Data are more important than Big Data.

As life partly moved to the internet and the internet became mobile (phones, cars, houses,…) , traces of our life are recorded and consequently quantified. This is what makes Big Data well … Big. It’s a collection of large and complex data sets. Insights and understanding of these data bears a lot of potential in them. But on the other hand, Big Data starts from a shaky premise: “we don’t need to think if we analyze sufficient data the numbers crunched say it all”.

In case I remember my stats courses well, this is just plain Bullshit. First of all there’s the difference between a correlation and a causality. It’s not because things are correlated that we understand the causality of the phenomenon. Furthermore, adding more data points to a collection does not automatically takes away all data issues. Just think of a “biased sample” in this respect. What if all “Big Data” you gather are from those people who are totally off-focus? Or do you really believe you can gather “all data” to counter all statistical reasons against Big Data. I guess you’ll never have “all population data”.

“Big Data for the What. Tiny Data for the Why.”

Big data show you the what. Tiny Data prove the why of that what. Marketers need to understand the why and work towards that insight. In today’s world, most marketers need to rely on Tiny Data to get those crucial insights on the why.

What is Tiny Data?

Tiny Data is a collection of qualitative / interpretative information. The data sample is rarely big. You take a few well-selected data points (sample) and get in deep touch with these data points. Observe these data points in real-life (participatory observation), talk with them individually about the subject (interviews) or run collective discussions (focus groups) to retrieve the information you’re looking for.

The information generated through these research techniques are not quantified. Variables are described in a human language. Not through statistical numbers based on – wrong – assumption. This in turn results in a better understanding. In true insights. Insights that are actionable. Insights that help you understand your customer. Insights that help you talk the customer’s language, etc. Don’t you want that in times where “engagement” seems a crucial marketing KPI?

“Big Data is here already. Big insights too but through Tiny Data”

Data without knowledge and information is useless. Current Big Data initiatives (like e.g. predictive buying) mostly lack true insights. As shown above, this will always be its problem. As this is a problem linked to the very nature of statistical modeling.

But what does one need to do now when he’s convinced he needs to be a data-driven business? Well, get insights through Tiny data. Second focus on getting your small data right!

“The Small Data challenge is already big enough.”

Regardless of the Big Data buzz, I notice a lot of companies not even properly handling their Small Data. That’s a shame because handling your small data well drastically improves your customer relations, lead generation, lead nurturing, etc. How do you automate your digital marketing communication without any solid Small Data behind it?

What is Small Data?

Small Data are the “regular” data information about a customer. These aren’t big – not large and not complex – but are crucial to get the conversation going. Think of elements like first name, last name, address, e-mail, birthday, sex, language, locale, channel preference, purchase stage, current products / services, …

And yes keeping those small data up-to-date is more important than gathering more and more data without any purpose. Or did you never get that “personalized e-mail” addressing you with the wrong name yet? “That couple who used to order a case of wine every fortnight for dinner parties is now buying diapers and baby food. Like your products, customer data has a sell-by date.”

“Size doesn’t matter?”

When it comes to data, size doesn’t matter. The goal of data is to get those that solve our problem or provide answers to the questions we have. For most problems and questions, small and tiny data do the trick. That’s how you outperform a big data competitor.


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