Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The obligatory 3.0 post: this time with added You-nicorn

Does it strike anyone else as odd, that just a few months after Time celebrates a new era of the empowered You, most of the chatter about the next great leap - that some are calling Web3.0 - is a paradigm shift for technology (namely the arrival of the semantic web), not the end user?
The what is web3.0? question has been stewing in my mind for a bit, and like many jargon-weary commentators I thought it best to ignore it and hope the urge would pass, since fluff to the power of fluff is just more fluff. But then the excellent and deeply credible R/WW kicked off this (tongue in cheek?) competition, so I might as well dump the contents of my 3.0 cache here for the record.
Basically, if I had to assign a numerical framework for the evolution of the web, what I'd do would be something like this:

Web1.0: Brain & Eyes (=Information)

Web2.0: Brain, Eyes, Ears, Voice & Heart (=Passion)

Web3.0: Brain, Eyes, Ears, Voice, Heart, Arms & Legs (=Freedom)

I would try and map the evolution of the web to the increasing benefits to the individual. The first breakthrough paradigm enabled by the web was information, the second was passion, the third - I would like to suggest, is freedom in the physical sense - aka mobility. In Maslowian terms, throw in a bit of food and sex, and you're basically done.
1.0 was about accessing information
From the individual's perspective, the web has progressively been about genuinely empowering them to do more and more with the things they care about. 1.0 provided the web as a disintermediater - where information was the novelty, and most of it happened to be in static text and graphic form. 1.0 was about knowing that a price is cheaper on Expedia than on the BA site, or reading about human rights abuses in China. The 1.0 poster children (eBay, Google, Amazon, Expedia and Wikipedia) allowed people to connect them with what they were interested in - such as cheap stuff and tough questions.
2.0 was about finding your passion
The arrival of You on the scene is not a passing fad. The web has always been about You, the only thing was that the You in 1.0 was deaf, mute and immobile. In 2.0 the gag came off. We started to sing, shout, dance and generally make a mockery of How Things Should Be Done. 2.0 represented another leap forward in terms of making our lives better. Bandwidths increased, allowing music then video to flow (with copyright spinning in the wind). Software and services became easier to use and companies such as mine made it easier to create and distribute content. Social networking sites allowed niche passions to connect with each other. The result is the individuals themselves started to have more fun, more sex, more life. They could perform for millions - anybody who's ever had the buzz of being on stage and adored by thousands knows how good that feels. (Apparently an Oscar nomination adds four years to your life.) YouTube has made people stars - made them sing dance, cavort, laugh, cry. Colour arrived to the binary, command-line network of networks. My simple suggestion for world peace is to play the Kiwi and Mocha videos on a big screen at the beginning of every UN security council meeting.
So, with the added emotion in our lives from the second version of the web we're really starting to be convinced that these tech guys actually are good news. Just when we're working ourselves up into a frenzy of excitement about what could be even bigger, even better for us and indeed be the Next Big Thing, along comes an old fashioned committee and tells us that the future is about resource description frameworks, web ontology language and, of course, XML.
Semantics is to Web 3.0 what horseshoes are to a unicorn
Sure, getting data to talk to data is an important step but to me it is plumbing. "WOW, you've got a flying horse, that's absolutely freaking, bloody amazing, I love it!!" is the refrain I'd like to hear as I tell people what I'm working on. Not, "A-ha, look at these nicely roughly circular, sturdy iron protective elements on the feet of the horse, I bet they're useful when it lands".
To be asked to imagine a future vision of where the web is going, and then be told that any vision is fine as long as it is semantic is rather claustrophobic. There is nobody on the planet that I think more deserving of unlimited wealth, chocolate and a permanent serenade by a chorus of angels than Tim Berners-Lee (despite him turning down our invitation to the Nokia Speaker Series when he collected his $1m cheque). However this necessary plumbing is not a sexy vision that will sell to our respective parents and kids. And as we know, sex sells.
We in the tech industry seem to be slipping back, like incurable alcoholics, to the bad habits of focusing on the technology and not the benefits of what is coming next. Of course, we know that it'd be great if microformats actually worked, and people could get more joined up services, but frankly, most of the benefits seem rather marginal compared to what we're able to do now. It's hard to package and sell it to Average Joe. For example, Wikipedia suggests as a use case that "a computer might be instructed to list the prices of flat screen HDTVs larger than 40 inches with 1080p resolution at shops in the nearest town that are open until 8pm on Tuesday evenings". Hmmm, anybody spot a geek in the vicinity? This would probably be to Joe just an incremental improvement in Google's already fabulous problem-solving offering. And also, it neglects that fact that people would probably still trust the recommendation of their friend over any semantic goodness. Digitizing relationships and reputations has proven to be particularly challenging.

3.0 will be about finding your legs, and your wings
So, 3.0 to me is more about taking what we had so far and extending the reach - both physically in terms of another dimension, but also in terms of imagination. Letting you do what you do today on the web but when you're mobile is the first necessary step - table stakes - for this, and for that we have browsers, widg/sets and AJAX integration. But a lot of that is not new innovation, just necessary replication. What I'm looking for in 3.0 is the truly breakthrough user experiences that hit you in the stomach, the way that using Google did the first time you used it, or the way that Mocha's little legs wiggled in a furry flurry of happiness. That I can safely say is not shrinking today's internet service du jour and putting it on the small screen, but using the vast amounts of new data sources in innovative ways to create new and improved experiences. Mobile social networking, avatars, maps, mashups, music, marketing and The Man will all I suspect play a part in building this. We've got some pretty cool ideas but part of the fun is not knowing what services will prove to be the most successful.
This is in essence the point of this blog - it's ThreeDimensionalPeople, people. Add a third dimension (and a fourth, courtesy of RSS) and the possibilities for innovation multiply. Unfortunately, some parts of the telco industry seems unable to allow the speed and scope of innovation required, so it will be provided in due time by others many of whom are both willing and able.
So in summary, I think we need our politicians, business people, relatives, academics and shop floor workers to get behind our vision for where we're going next and get excited about the possibilities about what it can do for them. Sure, the €100bn orgy of excess of 3G was painful, but just because one entire industry collectively overpaid, overpromised and underdelivered on a set of mistaken assumptions has nothing to do with the reality of what an Internet set free of wires could become. The mobile device plus the Internet has the potential to revolutionize our lives in ways that we haven't begun to dream about, and I suggest, deserves significantly more attention from our entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are striving to build new new things, whether they come with a number attached or not.


Mitch said...

Beautifully written. I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Sumitra said...

Good one. My favorite Web 3.0 definition is Sramana Mitra’s. Check it out Web 3.0 = (4C + P + VS).

Raimo van der Klein said...

Hi, great article. I am busy organising the Mobile Monday Amsterdam. Our topic is magic. It is about creating magic wands and instruments for people to give them the possibility to create heroic experiences. Fits very nicely with your story..

yurivangeest said...


Great post.

I agree with your point on Web 3.0. It is about the user benefits. In my view, Howard Rheingold got it quite right in his great book called Smart Mobs (2002) integrating different trends (UbiComp, Augmented Reality, social networks, RFID, self organization, Alternate Reality Games, etc.)

BTW, the 'plumbing' of the Semantic Web allows for integration of social networking data with the structured information on the Web. A good example is Joost with its upcoming social networked annotations in TV streams. The same logic will apply to physical objects, locations and people.

More suggestions in my posting here: