Web 2.0 is so over. First came the tepid reviews of the third annual 2.0 boondoggle. “If you were looking to learn something new,” sniffed GigaOm’s Liz Gannes, “this week’s Web 2.0 Summit was not the place to be.” Wrote a jaded Scott Karp, “there were few revelations, few moments where you had the exhilarating experience of seeing something that was about to change the world. Every conversation I had began with discussing the underwhelming nature of Web 2.0.” “I didn’t come away from the conference having learned much,” confessed Richard MacManus, who felt the highlight of the event “was seeing Lou Reed play live.” It was Lou himself, though, who put it most bluntly, telling the Web 2.0ers, “You got 20 minutes.”
But the nail in the coffin comes in tomorrow’s New York Times, which features a big article by John Markoff on – yes! – Web 3.0. Formerly known as the semantic web, but now rebranded for mass consumption, Web 3.0 promises yet another Internet revolution. It would, Markoff writes, “provide the foundation for systems that can reason in a human fashion … In its current state, the Web is often described as being in the Lego phase, with all of its different parts capable of connecting to one another. Those who envision the next phase, Web 3.0, see it as an era when machines will start to do seemingly intelligent things.”
Personally, I’m overjoyed that Web 3.0 is coming. When dogcrap 2.0 sites like PayPerPost and ReviewMe start getting a lot of attention, you know you’re seeing the butt end of a movement. (There’s a horrible metaphor trying to get out of that last sentence, but please ignore it.) Besides, the arrival of 3.0 kind of justifies the whole 2.0 ethos. After all, 2.0 was about escaping the old, slow upgrade cycle and moving into an age of quick, seamless rollouts of new feature sets. If we can speed up software generations, why not speed up entire web generations? It doesn’t matter if 3.0 is still in beta – that makes it all the better, in fact.
But, seriously, Markoff’s piece is a thought-provoking one. As he describes it, Web 3.0 will be about mining “meaning,” rather than just data, from the web by using software to discover associations among far-flung bits of information:
the Holy Grail for developers of the semantic Web is to build a system that can give a reasonable and complete response to a simple question like: “I’m looking for a warm place to vacation and I have a budget of $3,000. Oh, and I have an 11-year-old child.” Under today’s system, such a query can lead to hours of sifting — through lists of flights, hotel, car rentals — and the options are often at odds with one another. Under Web 3.0, the same search would ideally call up a complete vacation package that was planned as meticulously as if it had been assembled by a human travel agent.
Web 3.0 thus promises to be much more useful than 2.0 (not to mention 1.0) and to render today’s search engines more or less obsolete. But there’s also a creepy side to 3.0, which Markoff only hints at. While it will be easy for you to mine meaning about vacations and other stuff, it will also be easy for others to mine meaning about you. In fact, Web 3.0 promises to give marketers, among others, an uncanny ability to identify, understand and manipulate us – without our knowledge or awareness. If you’d like a preview, watch Dan Frankowski’s presentation You Are What You Say and Oren Etzioni’s presentation All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Google, and then connect the dots. (Thanks to Greg Linden for those links.)
Markoff quotes artificial-intelligence-promoter Danny Hillis, who calls Web 3.0 technologies “spooky.” If Danny Hillis thinks they’re spooky, they’re spooky. But I’m looking on the bright side: At least I’ll have more material for the old blog.
One last thing: I’m claiming the trademarks on Web 3.0 Conference, Web 3.0 Summit, Web 3.0 Camp, Web 3.0 Uncamp, and Web 3.0 Olde Tyme Hoedown.