Web 3.0: because Web 2.0 is so 2008 ...

Faster than you can say "social networking sites", Web 2.0 has been rebuilt and we have now arrived/are about to arrive/may soon arrive at Web 3.0. And may I say, it's about time.

According to Jason Calacanis, "Web 3.0 is defined as the creation of high-quality content and services produced by gifted individuals using Web 2.0 technology as an enabling platform".

Of course, there are other definitions (Wikipedia is a mess with them).

I like Calacanis' attention to the oft overlooked quality of content as a turning point, rather than type and appearance of website interfaces, but the "next generation" of the web will by necessity incorporate changes in both of these. This fits in well with some of my earlier complaints about Wikipedia's empty calories. Incidentally, I've been somewhat vindicated, as even Wikipedia has recognized its own faults in this way. So:

Web 3.0 throttles the “wisdom of the crowds” from turning into the “madness of the mobs” we’ve seen all to often, by balancing it with a respect of experts. Web 3.0 leaves behind the cowardly anonymous contributors and the selfish blackhat SEOs that have polluted and diminished so many communities.
The idea, then, is that Web 3.0 is the bastard child of Web 2.0 and The Age of Reason: a rebuild which will try to rectify rampant (or at least superfluous) idiocy by reverting to the expert-laymen divide, which ,way back when, used to make up something called, oh, what was it ... knowledge? He is optimistic in suggesting that, given the present state of the Internet as we know it, such a transformation can happen at all, but I'll keep my eye on it just in case. Still, in a counterintuitive sort of way, it makes sense that some manner of control will naturally begin to exert itself over the dissociative entanglement of content and context propagated by the fragmentary and participatory nature of Web 2.0. It is almost inevitable in light of the enhanced networking capabilities and reliance on expert information, recommendation and collaboration.

I enjoy that idea that a natural outcome of the insurmountable chaos that is Web 2.0-level Internet will be simplicity, hierarchy and order. But if that were true, then such would have been the case with the move from the oversaturated Web, when the flood gates burst open and Web 2.0 took over to make content more participatory, allowing us all to index the web the way we want it. The history of the Internet is fascinating because, like human history, the major points are recurring. The ideals of the original, free thought network (geek playground) that was the Internet, back in its early early days, had, by the late 90s, been overshadowed by corporate mining/raping of the web for advertising. Free services and information became a thing of the past around 2000-2002, but now the open source movement takes us full circle, nouveau-geeks taking on board the desire to re-democratize the web to fulfil every user's specialized needs.

So that is an obvious second feature of a predicted Web 3.0: open source; freedom of information. Everyone will presumably soon have the basic skillset for a little re-programming and fine-tuning to make things suit themselves. There will always be more free downloads, updates, plug-ins, customizations and add-ons.

At the Technet Summit way back in 2006, Jerry Yang, Yahoo founder, stated:

You don't have to be a computer scientist to create a program. We are seeing that manifest in Web 2.0 and 3.0 will be a great extension of that, a true communal medium...the distinction between professional, semi-professional and consumers will get blurred, creating a network effect of business and applications.
In my opinion, the "true communal medium" may be achievable in theory, but so far it fails in execution. Like the idea of "ubiquitous computing", which I agree we are inching towards at varying degrees conceptually, it is somewhat of a gratuitous term for a more blurred reality. This is mostly because there are still gaps in user knowledge and desires at all ages and levels. Not everyone feels the need for ubiquity, particularly those who do not understand the tools, or those who find them more time-consuming than analog alternatives. (For example, using Remember The Milk instead of sticking a post-it to the fridge). If your life isn't already digitally integrated, there is still a threshold of change which might be easier to surmount now rather than in the future, when Web 3.0 integration becomes watertight. It is ironic, but even some students of mine with iPods can work iTunes but can't figure out an email account.

A side effect of the growing intensity of specialist interests within Web 2.0 has therefore been the strengthening of the 1337/noob divide. No longer solely the purview of gifted cybernerds working out of their basement, the tools to create content on the web are more readily available to us all. Still, the content creator:viewer ratio remains skewed in favor of the latter. For instance, very few people upload videos to YouTube in comparison to the numbers who watch them. In the same vein, there are many people who download music or go on Facebook but don't consider themselves "Internet users" at all. So, ironically, as the means to access the tools to create content on the web become increasingly democratized, niche specializations in whatever realm - gaming, web design, hacking, SNS, chat - lead to increasing accusations of noobism and inferiority. A self-ascribed, elite, expert class of web users has never disappeared, just been overshadowed by the potentiality of user-generated content (UGC).

Similarly, I think there is a saturation point somewhere towards or after ubiquity becomes a reality. I'm not sure where the threshold is on either side, but I'm pretty sure that it's more like a continuum, anyway. There are only so many blogs and social networking sites (SNS) and microblogs and social bookmarking sites and indexes and RSS feeds and streams and music downloads and transfers and content management tools that we can keep up with, even if we're connected at every minute of the day. We still need to assimilate all the information. I remember myself that (back in the day), I used to have a over a hundred people on my messenger buddylists (ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, AIM). One day I realized that upon logging on I had 20 to 30 instant messages and the input became too great to keep up with, combined with emails and online groups (the precursors to SNS). I started logging on as "invisible", and the symbolism there is self-evident. Today I have three people on one messenger.

Ubiquitous computing sounds so ideal: wherever you go, from your PC to your phone, kitchen to car, bathroom to classroom, your content is there waiting for you. But I still believe that we all have our individual saturation points. So the Web 3.0 version of ubiquity will need to bring about a greater level of organization and one-touch prioritization, reworking superfluous information overload in favor of sleek and slimlined content management. Then I'll buy the whole Web 3.0 thing. Only I won't buy it, of course, I'll download it for free!

Other previewed features of Web 3.0 are enhanced interoperability, mass-networking, interconnected services, and universal, cross-platform accounts. This concept isn't new - the Microsoft/.NET Passport failed to achieve this around 2001 if I recall correctly, and now seems likely to cooperate with the OpenID framework, a step in the right direction. A more unified user authentication system seems unavoidable now because of the sheer number of networking websites, blogging tools, personal organizers, mobile content disseminators, and other overlapping programs which, by sheer volume, are easier to manage from a single portal. What will that portal be? The information "cloud" is so expansive, so cumulonimbus, that the only revolutionary change I can foresee being truly useful will be structurally and architecturally determined - not in a hardware or networked sense, but in an organizational sense. Peer filtering of UGC not withstanding, something's got to give. If there won't be a single data organizer for cross-platform mining of user-specific information, then at least each individual service should become more interactive and "open" so that the information is easily and quickly interchangeable between platforms. This will not only make each service stronger and more versatile, but better able to withstand the many fickle web generations yet to come.

Next stop, more dynamic web content. Despite my love of a good browser and probably because of my inability to find one, the real future of rich Internet content is outside the 2D box, with cross-platform, third-party software. I believe that we'll see considerable expansion of web-based services through tools like MS Silverlight and Adobe Air. Instead of browser add-ons, we'll overstep and work beyond the browser to achieve greater interactivity. As a run-of-the-mill Internet user, I'm kind of adverse to heightened desktop functionality because I find it so invasive, but as a web enthusiast, it is definitely the way things are going to enable to kind of power that new sites and services will require to smoothly and seamlessly integrate them with the lifestyle of user machines.

This blurring of the line between the desktop, browser and web has been happening seen since Java, Flash and Shockwave. If anything will make a single-step jump in revolutionizing Web 3.0, it will be in, ironically, shifting off the web to a web-desktop hybrid of interconnectivity. Enhanced service toolbars in our browser are just the beginning of the bridge-building between online and offline content. The oft-cited eBay auction desktop utility which allows users to edit auctions on their PC and upload them to eBay is one example. There is something so Juno Version 1.0 (1996) about that!

I'm skeptical as to how effective attempts at Semantic Web and AI will be in the Web 3.0 world. Perhaps in Web 5.0. This is always predicted as the element of the future, but it never gets realized or fulfilled, and frankly it's getting a little sad (sorry, Tim Berners-Lee). AI, machine learning, intelligent agents, I don't know. I'll believe it when I see it - not only in action - but when I see it making a practical difference to my everyday life. Let's admit it, the only way to make computers truly intelligent is to find an intelligent being to program them. That seems to be the sticking point. Besides, I don't want my computer to become self-aware. It's bad enough that it taunts me with those red and green squiggly lines under my text in MS Word. It's called poetic license, stupid machine.

Joking aside, I'm having trouble envisioning the potential application that achieves machine intelligence at a level which is truly useful and doesn't need babysitting. Besides proximity monitors in mobile devices and dictionaries/definition generators, the knowledge base of an AI system still needs to be monitored so it can 'learn'. Where is the big jump then, that makes this 3.0-worthy? Enhanced data-mining techniques are not enough to make intelligent programming predictions. This is because they are still based on the same platform - mining the existing web for content. Any predictions based on this would have to be done by some sophisticated algorithm of which I can't even begin to fathom. Even "collaborative filtering", which might be more effective, still requires a human intervention factor that makes the whole thing seem counterproductive. Some applications that might be expandable are recommendation engines, based on data mining content, but they are far from perfect, although some are more impressive than others; for example, music recommendations.

Despite my skepticism, I hope that Web 3.0 will see more universal compatibility and database generalization, so that cross-platform and cross-browser compliant import/export facilities exist and function with ease, rendering all forms of content truly fluid.

I think the most accurate definition of what we can expect from the elusive Web 3.0 in contrast to Web 2.0 comes from Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google:

Web 2.0 is a marketing term, and I think you've just invented Web 3.0. But if I were to guess what Web 3.0 is, I would tell you that it's a different way of building applications... My prediction would be that Web 3.0 will ultimately be seen as applications which are pieced together. There are a number of characteristics: the applications are relatively small, the data is in the cloud, the applications can run on any device, PC or mobile phone, the applications are very fast and they're very customizable. Furthermore, the applications are distributed virally: literally by social networks, by email. You won't go to the store and purchase them... That's a very different application model than we've ever seen in computing.

This is the clearest extension to what already exists, with a likely development in practical terms. The revolutionary aspects are implied and subtle in their continuity with the current state of the web. In the end, I should admit, I find web "versioning" to be facile and arbitrary. In dividing the web into generations of growth, we are missing the true beauty of it all - the open-ended continuum that is free knowledge sharing, and the various subsets and offshoots of information diffusion. The "transformations" between 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 are really a matter of degree more than substance; shape and form more than actuality; purpose and intention more than content.

Indeed, even with changes in appearance, design and visualizations throughout the years, the content on the web is mostly the same: photos, video, sound and text. What marked the distinction between 1.0 and 2.0 was self-obsessed egocentricity more than anything else. As we may inch towards the free information highway of ideals that so inspired early Internet enthusiasts, the egocentricity of the social networking generation of the web is all-pervading in our time and not easily effaced.

If Web Beta was marked by newness and optimism, Web 1.0 was a click-happy marketing expansion and .com bubble. That would make Web 2.0 the collaborative and tag-happy ADHD-ridden web. Let's hope 3.0 is a desire to implement sensibility and open source aspirations to fulfil the high hopes of the information society of prehistory - or, in web years, roundabout 1995.

And let's not forget revolution.

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