Web Squared: Web 2.0's Successor?

Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle discussed their vision and nomenclature for the next iteration of the web in a webinar last Thursday: I believe the recording will be available online sometime this week, slides are above.With the term 'Web 2.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle discussed their vision and nomenclature for the next iteration of the web in a webinar last Thursday: I believe the recording will be available online sometime this week, slides are above.

With the term 'Web 2.0' enjoying its fifth birthday (and supposedly entering dictionaries as the millionth phrase in the English language) the web cognoscenti need new terminology to help define what's coming up next. Since O'Reilly and his company popularized the term Web 2.0, which has been around since 1999. Surprisingly the various techarazzi sites such as techcrunch, which made its name blogging web 2.0 stories (and investing in some of the startups) have not been very vocal about this next generation vision statement.

October's always excellent Web 2.0 Summit conference, a Battelle/O'Reilly feast of futurism and commentary from various diverse luminaries (Al Gore spoke last year for example), will clearly hinge on the new 'squared' paradigm. There's a terrific post on that conference's website by the two principals which is well worth digesting.

Web 2.0, as most ZDNet readers will know,

"..refers to what is perceived as a second generation of web development and web design. It is characterized as facilitating communication, information sharing, interoperability, User-centered design and collaboration on the World Wide Web. It has led to the development and evolution of web-based communities, hosted services, and web applications. Examples include social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, mashups and folksonomies..."

...according to the quintessential Web 2.0 browser based collaborative app Wikipedia.

As Battelle & O'Reilly say in their recent post:

"the network as platform" means far more than just offering old applications via the network ("software as a service"); it means building applications that literally get better the more people use them, harnessing network effects not only to acquire users, but also to learn from them and build on their contributions.

More prosaically the underlying technologies to enable ajax user interface enhancements - dhtml and javascript - were codeable ten years ago; it was development of modern browsers incorporating standards that reliably ran that code which enabled Web 2.0 sites to scale and be secure. (There are huge problems with old versions of Microsoft Explorer being the 'official browser' in a surprisingly large number of companies to this day).

Where we now understand the concept of harnessing collective intelligence as 'crowdsourcing', a more up to date definition of intelligence characterizes it as allowing the collaborative group 'to learn from and respond to its environment'.

Imagine the Web (broadly defined as the network of all connected devices and applications, not just the PC-based application formally known as the World Wide Web) as a newborn baby. She sees, but at first she can’t focus. She can feel, but she has no idea of size till she puts something in her mouth. She hears the words of her smiling parents, but she can’t understand them. She is awash in sensations, few of which she understands. She has little or no control over her environment.

Gradually, the world begins to make sense. The baby coordinates the input from multiple senses, filters signal from noise, learns new skills, and once-difficult tasks become automatic.

The question before us is this: Is the Web getting smarter as it grows up?

Where up until now we have used brute force to find stuff on the web through search engines, now we're starting to talk to and more crucially with the web, say Tim and John in their treatise.

This is gradually being achieved through cooperating data sub systems:

There is a race on right now to own the social graph. But we must ask whether this service is so fundamental that it needs to be open to all.

It’s easy to forget that only 15 years ago, email was as fragmented as social networking is today, with hundreds of incompatible email systems joined by fragile and congested gateways. One of those systems – internet RFC 822 email – became the gold standard for interchange.

We expect to see similar standardization in key internet utilities and subsystems. Vendors who are competing with a winner-takes-all mindset would be advised to join together to enable systems built from the best-of-breed data subsystems of cooperating companies.

The machine readable web can now start to recognize explicit and implicit meaning, parsing and organizing to teach an application how to recognize the connection between structured to what appears to be unstructured data.

'A key competency of the Web 2.0 era is discovering implied metadata, and then building a database to capture that metadata and/or foster an ecosystem around it', say O'Reilly & Battelle: their 'Web Squared' paradigm essentially equals the concept of the Web meeting the physical World: the 'Internet of Things' have 'Information Shadow' attributes. The world of sensor based applications (RFID chips, Wireless Personal Area Networks) may seem far off, but

The Net is getting smarter faster than you might think. Consider geotagging of photos. Initially, users taught their computers the association between photos and locations by tagging them. When cameras know where they are, every photo will be geotagged, with far greater precision than the humans are likely to provide.<> This merging of the web with the physical world is manifesting itself in many other ways - Adobe's incredible Infinite Images can create an imaginary three dimensional world from a set of still photographs.

As examples of the 'internet of things'...

...A song has information shadows on iTunes, on Amazon, on Rhapsody, on MySpace, or Facebook. A person has information shadows in a host of emails, instant messages, phone calls, tweets, blog postings, photographs, videos, and government documents. A product on the supermarket shelf, a car on a dealer’s lot, a pallet of newly mined boron sitting on a loading dock, a storefront on a small town’s main street — all have information shadows now.

In many cases, these information shadows are linked with their real world analogues by unique identifiers: an ISBN or ASIN, a part number, or getting more individual, a social security number, a vehicle identification number, or a serial number. Other identifiers are looser, but identity can be triangulated: a name plus an address or phone number, a name plus a photograph, a phone call from a particular location undermining what once would have been a rock-solid alibi...

...What the Web 2.0 sensibility tells us is that we’ll get to the Internet of Things via a hodgepodge of sensor data contributing, bottom-up, to machine-learning applications that gradually make more and more sense of the data that is handed to them. A bottle of wine on your supermarket shelf (or any other object) needn’t have an RFID tag to join the "Internet of Things," it simply needs you to take a picture of its label.

Techniques for seeing patterns in data are going to be increasingly valuable skillsets for employees in the future: data analysis, visualization and in my opinion an understanding of of the vernacular of semantic web technologies. (I was at the semantic web technologies conference the week before last but haven't had any time to blog it yet, stay tuned).

O'Reilly & Battelle say

evidence shows that formal systems for adding a priori meaning to digital data are actually less powerful than informal systems that extract that meaning by feature recognition. An ISBN provides a unique identifier for a book, but a title + author gets you close enough

Deductive reasoning from Web 2.0 style mashups of information are more powerful than linked data accessed from triple stores..not sure about this but for information shadows around unstructured 'things' I'll accept the point.

On the subjective of the collaborative real time collective mind, Tim and John say

There’s a new information layer being built around Twitter that could grow up to rival the services that have become so central to the Web: search, analytics, and social networks. Twitter also provides an object lesson to mobile providers about what can happen when you provide APIs. Lessons from the Twitter application ecosystem could show opportunities for SMS and other mobile services, or it could grow up to replace them.

The 'information cascades' of retweets of news are just the beginning of a new era of 'realtime indications of what is on our collective mind'. A concern I have around this is the ability to launch disinformation and propagate it: in our current era 'The Drudge Report' regularly trumped news organizations by running uncorroborated stories and arguable achieved political competitive advantage. Influencing the collective mind can be a form of aeromancy projected on the fog of war. I've skimmed the surface of the Web Squared vision statement, which includes a call for examples to prepare for the Web 2.0 Summit, and can recommend a careful reading.

Clearly the world of enterprise collaboration is all about driving results that make quarterly numbers improve, and many of the products Battelle & O'Reilly cite are visionary - the superscript on this Microsoft Natal demo video says 'product vision: actual features and functionality may vary'. It pays to keep your eye on the horizon even as you execute your more immediate strategy and tactics, and since the two primary visionaries of Web 2.0 have also made their fortunes from it, listening carefully to how they see the future unfolding makes good commercial sense.

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