Web 2.0 isn't dead, but Web 3.0 is bubbling up

Nick Carr was at this best synthesizing the week that was--the Web 2.0 Summit--and he wasn't even there.

Nick Carr was at this best synthesizing the week that was--the Web 2.0 Summit--and he wasn't even there. I agree with other bloggers, commentators, writers, reporters,  pundits, podcasters, vloggers, journalists and user generated content creators who said that the Web 2.0 Summit, which I covered extensively, didn't produce any great revelations or a great step forward for the global Web. It was more about scraping money off the table as the money--VCs, IAC, Fox Interactive, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others--were auditioning startups in the hallways and in private rooms.

Nick is having fun calling Web 2.0 mostly over and heading straight to Web 3.0:

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. 

Many people I talked to identified a lack of big innovations, little companies with features but not products, too many products crowding the same space, too many startups trying to horn into MySpace  and the lack of sizzle from the hand-picked companies that demoed their products in public and paid their appearance fee. But, it's hard to put down the fact that a lot of energy and creativity is at work, even if most of it won't make the cut.

The alternative is no enthusiasm or creative juices flowing, and we are back in time, reliving the desolation of the bubble burst era. Plenty of room for innovation exists, but the power is concentrating in a few behemoths dominating the landscape, which gradually tend to stifle innovation, slowing it down to the pace of the large and lumbering, and fewer choices.

Back to Web 3.0. There will be one, and it has been associated at this point with concepts of the semantic Web, derived from the primordial soup of Web technologies. It's been a focus of attention for Tim Berners-Lee, who cooked up much of what the Internet is today, for a nearly a decade.

Nova Spivack, founder and CEO of Radar Networks, defined the semantic Web in a long post on his blog that is worth reading:  

The Semantic Web is a set of technologies which are designed to enable a particular vision for the future of the Web – a future in which all knowledge exists on the Web in a format that software applications can understand and reason about. By making knowledge more accessible to software, software will essentially become able to understand knowledge, think about knowledge, and create new knowledge. In other words, software will be able to be more intelligent – not as intelligent as humans perhaps, but more intelligent than say, your word processor is today.

I won't argue with attaching the semantic Web to 3.0, although there may be something unforeseen in between what we have today and a Web in which the machines seem more intelligent, and do more than calculate inbound and outbound links to derive relevant answers to queries.

John Markoff triggered the discussion around Web 3.0 and systems that can reason in a more human way, in a recent New York Times article. He described the differences between Web 2.0 and 3.0:

The classic example of the Web 2.0 era is the “mash-up” — for example, connecting a rental-housing Web site with Google Maps to create a new, more useful service that automatically shows the location of each rental listing.

In contrast, 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.”

While Web 3.0 might now have a concept to hang itself on, we will remain in the midst of the Web 2.0 era for several more years. The semantic Web is still incubating and will take many turns of the crank to become mainstream.

Markoff mentioned Spivack's Radar Networks and Metaweb, two companies developing technology around semantic Web concepts. Both companies are in stealth mode, and only talking in generalities about their product plans. 

In response to the attention the semantic Web has been getting since Markoff's article, Spivack recently posted about misconceptions layered on the concept:

The Semantic Web is not just a single Web. There won't be one Semantic Web, there will be thousands or even millions of them, each in their own area. They will connect together over time, forming a tapestry. But nobody will own this or run this as a single service.   

The Semantic Web is not separate from the existing Web. The Semantic Web won't be a new Web apart from the Web we already have. It simply adds new metadata to the existing Web. It merges right into the existing HTML Web just like XML does, except this new metadata is in RDF.   

The Semantic Web is not just about unstructured data. In fact, the Semantic Web is really about structured data: it provides a means (RDF) to turn any content or data into structured data that other software can make use of. This is really what RDF enables.

The Semantic Web does not require complex ontologies. Even without making use of OWL and more sophisticated ontologies, powerful data-sharing and data-integration can be enabled on the existing Web using even just RDF alone.

The Semantic Web does not only exist on Web pages. RDF works inside of applications and databases, not just on Web pages. Calling it a "Web" is a misnomer of sorts -- it's not just about the Web, it's about all information, data and applications.

The Semantic Web is not only about AI, and doesn't require it. There are huge benefits from the Semantic Web without ever using a single line of artificial intelligence code. While the next-generation of AI will certainly be enabled by richer semantics, is not the only benefit of RDF. Making data available in RDF makes it more accessible, integratable, and reusable -- regardless of any AI. The long-term future of the Semantic Web is AI for sure -- but to get immediate benefits from RDF no AI is necessary.

The Semantic Web is not only about mining, search engines and spidering. Application developers and content providers, and end-users, can benefit from using the Semantic Web (RDF) within their own services, regardless of whether they expose that RDF metadata to outside parties. RDF is useful without doing any data-mining -- it can be baked right into content within authoring tools and created transparently when information is published. RDF makes content more manageable and frees developers and content providers from having to look at relational data models. It also gives end-users better ways to collect and manage content they find.

The Semantic Web is not just research. It's already in use and starting to reach the market. The government uses it of course. But also so do companies like Adobe, and more recently Yahoo (Yahoo Food is built on the Semantic Web). And one flavor of RSS is defined with RDF. Oracle has released native RDF support in their products. The list goes on...

Ross Mayfield doesn't put much stock in the grand semantic Web vision or a Web 3.0 in the future.

I'd bet the future is less the Matrix than Soylent Green.  Less semantic fuzz than social discovery.  Less artificial intelligence than human intelligence.  Less automation and more augmentation.  Wandering around the Web 2.0 Summit I saw more presentations using 3.0 than I can enunummerate.  Some were about more immersive platforms, some desire the singularity, but most just wanted to be new and cool.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle--the living and breathing social Web along with semantic Web technologies will help create a new infrastructure for the information Web that is far different and more powerful than what we call Web 2.0...


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