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March 22, 2008

Web 3.0: Are We There Yet?

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Quick disclaimer: this article is simply something that I wrote up on a whim, meant to provoke thought. By no means do I claim to be an expert on the history of the web, the intricacies of "Web 2.0" et al, or anything else. This is, simply put, a brainstorm.

Since its inception, the web has been evolving.

In the beginning, there were marked-up files, with the sole purpose of spreading information. Files linked to each other using hyperlinks. Pages were made up of static HTML -- with a strong emphasis on "static". Websites were merely a collection of rarely-changing information. Rarely-changing because...well...because, put simply, they were static.

Enter Server-Side Scripting. Wonder of wonders! Intelligent pages, able to adapt, to learn, to store and retrieve information! Pages could be made easier to update, easier to maintain, and easier to modify. Website owners and visitors alike could create accounts, and later log back in to those accounts to retrieve information they had saved on previous visits.

The world of static pages, difficult maintenance, and ad-hoc special effects has been dubbed the "Web 1.0 era". The focus of the web was information, and information was served.

As dynamic server-side languages gained popularity, people created websites that slowly evolved into communities. Web 2.0, we called it. The focus shifted to the people, and the people were served.

And now where are we? "Well, nothing revolutionary has come along, so we must still be in Web 2.0". I would disagree. In a recent article on IndustryInteractive.net entitled "Facebook has failed us", the author states:

  1. Facebook is great at connecting people. [...] I was able to find people I went to elementary school with, identify them, and connect.
  2. Facebook sucks at playing well with others. There are Facebook Apps to integrate things like Flickr and del.icio.us, but they really blow, and why isn’t Facebook building that functionality right in anyways? [...]

While I won't say how great or how horrible Facebook is, it seems the focus of the web is shifting -- or already has shifted -- away from people, and more towards services. With "web applications" like Google Docs, Flickr, Netvouz, GMail, and Google Reader, web-based computing may not be that far off. Already, most of the functions we perform on our computers can already be done through our favorite web browsers -- even BitTorrent downloading!

People don't expect information or community anymore -- those are a given for any good website. What people expect in this new day and age is integration of services. Can I inject my Del.icio.us bookmarks into my blog feed? Can Google Docs post this document to my Blogger blog? Can I integrate my Flickr pics into my Facebook profile?

With the shift of focus to services, it's possible we may already be in a kind of Web 3.0. Or perhaps not -- perhaps we are only in Web 2.5, the middle grounds between people-focus and service-focus. After all, there was a Web 1.5: the middle grounds between information-focus and people-focus, when those good ol' dynamic web languages were still picking up support.


robojiannis said...

I'm really skeptical if these services are web 3.0 - or semantic - applications.
I tend to believe that some of these applications and services, such as OpenID or data portability, are mostly the foundations of the upcoming step of the web.
Other than that, I see most of these services as attempts to take commercial, financial, or whatever advantage of the popularity of the web.

EterniCode said...

Thanks for the comment, robojiannis.

I think you're probably right in the idea of current technologies/services being the foundation of the "next level", as it were. Something like the "2.5 phase" I mentioned in my last paragraph.

The question is, what is the next level? Is it seamless integration of services, ad hoc, on a whim? Or will it come when all major computing is cloud-based? I suppose we'll know it when we see it. At least, we can hope we will.

Or did you mean that you believe Web 3.0 will be a "Semantic Web"?

And I can also see your point of the services taking advantage of the popularity of the web :P who's not trying to do that? ;)

Anonymous said...

"it seems the focus of the web is shifting -- or already has shifted -- away from people, and more towards services"

Actually, I think the opposite is true. I think that the people are trying to put themselves at the center of their web universe, and expect all of the services to revolve around them.

Choice is a big part of identity. There are a lot of great photo sharing web sites out there, like Flickr or Picasa, or some of the niche players. I've made the decision to be a Flickr user, a del.icio.us user, a WordPress user, a Twitter user -- that's all part of my identity. I want any other service that I select to play nicely with my existing services.

Web 1.0 was all about getting peoples' data locked in to your web site and not sharing that data with anyone else. Web 2.0 is the promised land of APIs and interoperability. Facebook just seems to be going in the exact opposite direction, promoting their platform (API) to developers in order to produce shoddy, useless plugins.