Coming Soon to a Device Near You: Web 3.0

Web 3.0Hold on… aren’t we still figuring out what Web 2.0 is?  Well, yes.  But those on the cutting edge have been dreaming of Web 3.0 for quite some time already.  In fact, the oldest reference we can find to Web 3.0 was when Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, was asked about it at a conference back on August 2, 2007.  In any case, whether we’re ready or not, Web 3.0 is on its way, so let’s start the conversation about what it’s all about.

But before we start talking about Web 3.0…

It makes sense to get clear on what Web 2.0 is all about.  When the Internet first took off (we can call it Web 1.0, although it was never referred to as such back then), it wasn’t really interactive at all.  It was basically like a library of information.  You could look for what you wanted, read the results, and that was about the end of it.  The most interactivity we found was the ability to purchase products and maybe email a company for more information (through a web form if the site was really high-speed!).

With the emergence of Web 2.0, the Internet has become very interactive, even to the point where site visitors create the web content.  The most prevalent sites on the net, like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter could not exist without members contributing content.  To a lesser degree, even smaller sites, from news feeds to personal blogs, give visitors a chance to weigh in on the content, through comments, ratings and forums.  Some of these sites, news feeds in particular, actually decide which content visitors see first, based on ratings by previous visitors.  In this way, while the content itself is generated by the site, how that content is delivered is decided upon by the masses.  Then there are the social bookmarking sites, like digg, Slashdot, StumbleUpon, Reddit, etc.  These also depend on reader submissions for their existence.  In general, Web 2.0 has made the web hyper-interactive.  In other words, it has allowed people worldwide to interact with sites and with each other whenever they want, wherever they want, in real time.  This has made the Internet more intuitive and vastly more useful.  Of course, there’s more to Web 2.0, including design elements and mobile connectivity, but that’s a brief overview.

So, what can we expect from Web 3.0?

Web 3.0 continues the evolution of the Internet.  Unlike a software application, we can’t put a “release date” on the next version of the web.  There won’t be a day when we say, yesterday Web 2.0 ended, and today Web 3.0 begins.  Instead, just like with all evolutionary processes, the transition to Web 3.0 will be gradual.  We’re already seeing some signs of this transition, but most experts predict we will be safe to say we are fully in Web 3.0 some time after late 2011 and before 2014.

What will this next version of the web look like?  No one knows for sure.  Technology and ingenuity is continually advancing, so it’s likely that it will include features we can’t even imagine right now.  We can however predict more generally what kinds of functionality we can expect.  The word most used by web experts to describe Web 3.0 is “intuitive.”  For example, let’s say the Academy Awards show is going to begin in a few hours.  You want to know what time to tune in, so you go to Google and begin to type your query: “what time do the a…” Google, in a failed attempt to be intuitive, provides these search suggestions:

What Time Google

Above are Google’s actual search suggestion results on the night of the 2010 Academy Awards. The American Music Awards, the first suggestion, airs more than three months before the Academy Awards.  On the night of the Academy Awards, the search suggestion function wouldn’t have to be all that intuitive to know that that is, if not your most likely search query, at least much more likely than the AMAs.  Instead, “what time do the academy awards start” is the last suggestion, even below “when do the arizona cardinals play…” well after football season has ended.

Will it be your best friend ever?

The prediction for Web 3.0 is that all of the searches and a lot more will improve immensely.  Not only will sites be more generally intuitive, they will be tuned into you and your personal preferences.  This is actually true with Google’s search suggestion function now, when you have your search history turned on, but it still has a long way to go.  According to Wired Magazine’s Kevin Kelly, Google and others will indeed go a long way in the new Web 3.0 environment.  Kelly and others envision a web that knows you better than anything or anyone, when it comes to what you like, what you don’t like, and what you want and don’t want.

For example, rather than searching five different travel sites to find the best deal on a vacation package, the evolved web will not only come up with the best deals, but will narrow the results down to, for instance, tropical locations that are kid-friendly.  Want to go to dinner and a movie?  You would just need to type the phrase “dinner and a movie tonight” to get a list of movies now playing and your favorite restaurants that are within five miles of the theater closest to you.  Web 3.0 will “learn” about you based on your online activity and will get smarter, the more you use the Internet.

The question remains, do we really want the web to “know” us that well?  Also, what about people who share computers?  The beauty of the web, whatever “version”, is that it naturally molds to the preferences of the majority, so these and other questions will work themselves out as the evolution continues.

As entrepreneurs, we know that the only constant is change.  So as uncomfortable as this new A.I.-like web may make some, we can say for sure it’s not a matter of if but when.  And the best thing we can do is spot the trends happening, adapt, and even lead when possible.  This will ensure that whatever the future brings, we’re ready to capitalize – for Web 3.0 and beyond.

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