Having your phone organize your agenda and then jumping on your avatar and going for a stroll around a 3D town you’ve not visited yet… What does the future Web hold for us?
We’re already living in a world where connecting to the Internet is almost as easy as turning on the light. Yet it seems the Web is soon going to spread even further and be truly ubiquitous: from being in your clothing and driving your car, to being in your windows (which will self-close if they sense it’s likely to rain) or on your bathroom mirror (which will automatically demist and adjust the light so you freshen up more easily)… Plus, let’s not forget that for some time now, radio, TV and other information and entertainment systems are merging with the web, so much so that soon it will be almost impossible to distinguish between one medium and another.
All this is serving as a catalyst for the emergence of a new era in the Web’s brief history —a stage in which machines are expected to understand content just like humans. And, since they will also know our tastes and habits by means of big data analysis, they will automatically filter the information we receive to customize our online experience. It’s what has been called Web 3.0.
What is Web 3.0
Imagine telling your phone “I’m looking for a vacation for two in the Caribbean in January for less than 3,000 dollars”. And it finding the best flight + hotel package, as well as additional offers for tours and restaurants in the area.
That’s where the Internet experts think it is all going. Although it’s still too early to predict what might happen, many think the Web will become a sort of personal assistant who will know us inside out, and access all the online information to solve our queries.
For example, let’s imagine you want to go for dinner at a Japanese restaurant and then go to the movies to see a comedy. Now, you have to think what theater to choose, check what’s on, look at the schedule for the movie you like, then look for nearby restaurants, discard the ones with no recommendations and phone to make a reservation. The process can take so long that you end up missing the showing…
In the future, you could instruct your device to find a Japanese restaurant and a comedy premiere and let the Web take care of the details. Because of previous searches, it would know who your favorite actors are and what’s your usual budget for a meal (besides of course always knowing your whereabouts), so it could analyze, select and present you with the most relevant options for you, which you could then compare in no time.
Right now search engines do not really understand what they’re looking for —rather, they just search for keywords. So if you make a search for “Apollo”, results retrieve a mixture of sites relating to the Greek god, the Space Race and nightclubs and theaters… Although search engine algorithms are increasingly sophisticated, so far they can’t sauce out which sites are really relevant according to context.
A search engine of the future, however, will be able to interpret that you just looked for dinner and a movie, so surely “Apollo” must relates to a venue… It will therefore filter the proper results and even suggest alternative bars or clubs. It will basically treat the whole Web as a huge database available to address any question.
This has been called Web 3.0 —a vision of the Web in which machines can understand and process all data floating through cyberspace just like humans. The concept appeared in 2001, when Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist best known for being the father of the Web, used it in an article in Scientific American. He suggested that someday software “agents” would take on online tasks which we often struggle to do on our own.
While the current Web uses the Internet to connect people, Web 3.0 will connect people with information. Some experts say that Web 3.0 will replace Web 2.0, others think both will exist as separate networks and even others believe that the notion itself is nothing but a another buzzword which only exists for marketing purposes. Yet there is no doubt that the Web has grown a lot in a few years and its evolution is unstoppable.
1994 – 2004 — Web 1.0: the Static Web
With the perspective we have 20 years on, we now call this first generation of the Internet (focused on back-end and infrastructure development), Web 1.0. However, in just a decade, the focus shifted to the front-end (the part visible to users), thus starting the Web 2.0 era.
2004 – 2014? — Web 2.0: the Mobile, Social Web
The term Web 2.0 was coined in 2003 by Dale Dougherty, O’Reilly Media’s vice president, to refer to services focused on collaboration and sharing among users such as social networks, communication tools, and folksonomies (sites like del.icio.us, Flickr or 43 Things where labeling allows for social indexing).
The term became truly fashionable in 2004 and it has since been used everywhere. However, if you asked ten people to define “Web 2.0”, you would get ten different answers. The fact is many other significant advancements have also shaped Web 2.0, like new ways to get information (such as RSS feeds) or develop websites (like AJAX). Above all, though, the one key trend that is inextricably linked to Web 2.0 is the mobile Internet —mobile devices have indeed had a direct impact on Web embracement and growth.
In any case, most will agree that Web 2.0 is a highly interactive and social network based on user collaboration. And, even though best practices and innovations in this regard will continue, we are far from the end point of the Web’s evolution.
2014 – 2024? — Web 3.0: the Smart Web
Most likely, the first time we’ll hear about Web 3.0 will be through marketing. As the catchiness of the “2.0” runs out of steam, we’ll surely start seeing sites claiming to be “3.0”…
Marketing buzzwords aside, the fact is many experts believe the Web of the future is just around the corner. If it took us ten years to move from the original web to the second generation web, logic says it should roughly take us the same time to do the next big leap. And, if Web 2.0 was generalized in 2004, we could be diving into Web 3.0 at any time now.
We already use websites as platforms for other applications. We are creating mashups (hybrid web apps combining data and functionality from several sources) and experimenting with new ways for creating a more interactive Web… Indeed, it seems we are stepping into another phase.
How Web 3.0 Will Work
Supposedly, Web 3.0 will encompass the third generation of online services, which will focus on getting machines to understand information so they can offer humans a more productive experience. But, how?
This new web cycle will be driven by the confluence of several technology trends which reinforce each other and which are about to reach maturity around the same time:
Pervasive connectivity: Fiber optics, broadband, mobile devices and projects like Google Loon will soon get everyone connected to the Internet.
Network Computing: SaaS models, web services interoperability, and distributed systems (P2P networks, grid computing, etc.) have created a network which doesn’t depend on a single supplier, thus becoming much more powerful.
Open Technology: Open protocols, platforms, formats, data (Creative Commons, Open Data License, etc.) and APIs (application programming interfaces allowing programmers to create apps leveraging certain resources —e.g. a Facebook API allows a developer to create games that use Facebook as a base) have made it possible to create more and better technology.
Open Identity: Online reputation is becoming increasingly important, just as the decentralized digital identification standard OpenID allowing users to not create an account to access websites connected to this service.
Semantic Web: A while ago there was talk of creating ontologies (a type of dictionary or conceptual scheme that enables machines to understand the meaning of words and the relationships among them) or using tags to categorize all content stored on Internet. But obviously this would require a lot of effort and coordination on everyone’s side. Therefore many researchers have chosen to make software agents more intelligent rather than making pages easier to read. For instance, BlueOrganizer is a plug-in that can understand what a site is about and find related information (e.g. if you’re browsing a blog about movies, and you click on a post about a specific film, it automatically points you to websites where you can buy that film). Indeed, there is already a growing number of artificial intelligence applications based on natural language processing, microforms, data mining, machine learning and autonomous software agents.
Beyond Web 3.0
Although we can not predict what the Web of the future will throw at us, what is clear is that it will bring innovation and changes. We are at the end of the 2.0 cycle and no one can know for sure how Web 3.0 will be. We can, however, build on what is already happening to glimpse some ideas —there are already many large companies (such as HP and Yahoo) using semantic web standards, and many others (like Google and Microsoft) moving towards 3D.
3D Web: Avatars, Virtual Reality and iBeacons
Some have talked about the possibility of the Web becoming a huge three-dimensional world (the so-called World Wide Virtual Web or 3D Web).
Some think that by combining virtual reality with the popularity of online games like World of Warcraft and other multiplayer games, the web could become a digital world (sort of Second Life or There.com) with the illusion of depth. Most people, however, envision the Web 3D not as an alternative universe, but as a recreation of the real world. That is, that in the future we could walk the Web —browsing the Internet from a first person perspective or even through our own avatar (a digital representation of oneself).
Although it doesn’t sound like a huge step (Google Earth already offers a pretty similar experience), the idea of the entire net becoming a single virtual world with buildings, stores and other places and people you can interact with, would need to overcome bigger obstacles than those related to technology: to start with, all websites on the Web would have to agree on certain standards…
While this notion offers too many challenges at this point, we can not ignore the idea of a Web 3D perhaps for the next Web generation.
Our Life on the Web
Since we’re talking about the future, it’s all an open question. However, there is no doubt, that all these ideas and trends raise some concerns —If the Web records our activity and stores our profile online, is it not possible that our data could be hacked somehow? And if someone makes a search of our name, will she be able to access our history? What if private companies managed to find out what we do and what we look for on the Internet? And if the Web only offers us what it knows we like, will we not lose our freedom of choice?
We do not know whether the Semantic Web will manage to capture human knowledge in a logical and explicit format, but, if so, will we stop thinking for ourselves and just accept what the machine tells us?
Perhaps when we begin to seriously consider the answers to these questions, it will be too late to do something about it.