This is part two of a two part post on Web 3.0 by my friend Don. You can catch up by reading part one here. Today, Don takes us into the present day – exploring the current state of the Web and provides insights on how we can meet the challenges of the emerging Web 3.0 era.

In January 2009, Jessi Hempel of CNNMoney.com actually declared Web 2.0 “over” and welcomed the emergence of Web 3.0. Accordingly, Web 2.0 has been a “Total Bust.” Web 2.0, personified by social networking services such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and their enormous fan bases, are not exceedingly profitable. Myspace is projected to make $400 million in revenue less than projected. Twitter has no business model. Google has not been able to shift away from relying on advertising revenues. Its purchase of the popular video sharing service, YouTube, has not produced discernible profit.

While Web 2.0 has changed the way people interact with the web (i.e. disruptive technologies), it has failed to produce equivalent financial success like its surviving dot-com predecessors, Amazon and Yahoo. The piece echoes Dan Farber’s 2 year old determinations. Few social networking companies have viable business models. Everyone is in the cycle of raising money and trying to “score a life- or business-altering hit”, potentially in the hopes of being acquired. Hempel also points out that many companies rely on advertising, which is problematic because, as a recently published Time magazine piece states, social networks break from the traditional model that brought marketers to the web. They do not permit advertisers to target by subject. While these services continue to gather large numbers of people together, they demonstrate themselves inappropriate to marketers because no one knows who users are or what they want. The result: an ad on Yahoo’s news portal commands 30 times the value of an ad on Facebook. Hempel’s piece ends with a longing for what Web 3.0 may bring.

In 2007, Google CEO Eric Schmidt defined Web 3.0 at the Seoul Digital forum. After first joking that Web 2.0 is “a marketing term”, Schmidt theorized that, while Web 2.0 was based on Ajax (Javascript and DOM), Web 3.0 will be “applications that are pieced together.” Its characteristics will include relatively small apps. The data is in the cloud. The applications can run on any device. The apps will be very fast, very customizable, and distributed virally (social networks, email, etc). In short, the CEO of a Web 2.0 giant re-iterated O-Reilly’s definition of Web 2.0, characteristic for characteristic.

  • “applications that are placed together” -> Characteristic 5
  • “Relatively small apps, whose data is in the cloud” -> Characteristics 3 and 5
  • “the application can run on any device” -> Characteristic 6
  • “The apps will be very fast, very customizable and distributed virally” -> Characteristics 1, 2, and 4

If Schmidt is correct, utility of web services drives their profitability, meaning Web 2.0 is still profitable so long as companies make add-ons, to provide novel functionality like location-based services or financial payment systems, that can be bolted onto existing services. Perhaps, Schmidt was motivated, like O’Reilly before him, to establish new jargon, distance his company from Web 2.0, and re-brand technology that Google is invested in.

Nova Spivack, CEO of Radar Networks and creator of Twine, the first mainstream semantic web-enabled service, begs to differ. According to him, Web 3.0 is statistics, linguistics, open data, computer intelligence, wisdom of crowds, and user generated content, all coming together. It is the “natural convergence” of web innovations that have occurred to date. And yes, semantic web technologies will power the convergence.

When Spivack released Twine two years ago, he explained how the newly popular buzz words “semantic web” fit in Web 3.0. Unlike web iterations, the semantic web is not jargon. It is a set of standardized technologies, designed to address features currently lacking in the web. It is meant to extend the web so that all information exists in a format that software can understand and reason with. In so doing, software can leverage conceptualized information (i.e. knowledge), making them seem more intelligent. An early realization involves services from the web driving more complete responses to natural language queries. Another is thinner applications that leverage semantic-aware services or structured information in a “knowledge commons.” As such, services from the web will not be restricted to information they themselves capture or store in traditional relational databases.

At the moment, Spivack envisions the semantic web just merging additional meta data, in the form of RDF (resource description framework), into existing content. More complex ontologies using OWL (web ontology language) can come later. Meanwhile, like another semantic web pioneering firm called MetaWeb, he recommends navigating the noise about Web 3.0 by realizing that the semantic web presently resides in a niche. But, it will have effects on all aspects of the web. Spivack also recommends looking deeply into purported Web 3.0 companies who market semantic products to determine what technologies they use and how much expertise they have.

It is now May 2009. The capabilities that I forecast in my original tech scan have neither been fully realized, nor have many of these technologies been popularized. While some smart phones have global positioning system (GPS) technology built in, very few mainstream services are location aware. Notebooks have superseded desktops, but netbooks have emerged, meaning that furniture with built-in consoles is still a while off (Microsoft’s Surface notwithstanding). While some credit cards use RFID chips to automate payment at the cash, adoption of product-based asset management has not been implemented. While Apple released a 17″ desktop replacement notebook with a reputed day’s worth of Lithium Ion power, long lasting fuel cells do not power our gadgets. As for web services, the promise of service oriented architecture was powerful, but its popularity has fallen to the wayside with the emergence of cloud computing.

What we can draw from this in the midst of the web potentially going through yet another redacted effort to ensure profitability?

Firstly, the potential of various emerging technologies to have lasting effects on human lives takes time to realize, but needs to be driven. Today the web has a glut of information of varying qualities, a large proportion of which is user generated content. Users need to demand more from the services that are available and try new ones. This includes services that feature better usability, easier accessibility, and more intelligent responses to queries. The impetus to innovate is slowly being extinguished by large corporations who acquire their services instead of grow them. They have enormous influence in defining what utility their services deliver. Left alone, innovation will be stifled.

Secondly, revenue streams need to change. As a very recent piece by Read Write Web’s Bearnard Lunn states, the iterations of the web are in transition (Web 2.5). Investors are wary of Web 2.0 services and difficulties with their being profitable. A possible alternative could be subscriptions and/or transaction fees. This way, users can re-take ownership of the information that Web 2.0 companies have embraced. Companies leverage user generated content by mining for intelligence. However, the intelligence generated does not always benefit the users who contributed it. By moving towards subscription and transaction fee-based revenue, entrepreneurs can be encouraged to build the services that will produce semantic-enriched content. In turn, this can seed the development of a knowledge commons and intelligent services from the web.

Thirdly, the all-encompassing jargon that is Web 2.0 ensures that adherent technology will continue to emerge. Rich internet applications powered by Microsoft Siverlight, Adobe AIR or the like have begun to break free of the browser (e.g. third-party Twitter or Facebook clients), yet they rely on services from the web. Smart phones are eclipsing more traditional cell phones and landlines, be they connected by cellular wireless, WiMAX or a mesh network of more traditional WiFi. The most popular smart phone, the Apple iPhone employs light weight applications, some of which consume services from the web. However, the applications themselves are distributed through a service on the web that has created a new marketplace. CEOs should be encouraged not to produce jargon to pursue investment. Technological escapism is counterproductive, because overzealous converts can ignore paths to innovation. Clearly, there remains untapped innovation that fit Web 2.0 characteristics.

Fourthly, users need the tenacity to navigate hype and continue to produce and consume content. Berniers-Lee’s rebuttal to Web 2.0 continues to reverberate. The web is about people. People need to continue to demand an open space in which to share with each other. This is what the web was designed for. This is also why it continues to evolve.

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Don is an IT Professional with over a decade’s experience in a field where he has been called many things; application developer, database administrator, web-application architect, technical analyst, and security analyst.  More recently, the word “senior” prefixes his titles, which he claims is to reduce white-space on his business card.  Interestingly, he started life as a sociologist, but turned to IT to pay the bills.  Doing so, he became infatuated with information and flattening the knowledge pyramid (data -> information -> knowledge). That infatuation persists today. You can follow Don @foodieprints on Twitter.