• April 2, 2009

    Where is the Web Going? Ask O'Reilly

    The Internet as we have known it has undergone two distinct evolutionary periods over the past 15 years. The first was the very adoption of the World Wide Web as the primary information platform for the vast majority of Internet users. The second was the adaptation of technologies designed to help Internet users communicate with each other and various institutions better. Within each evolutionary period, advances in technologies made the 'Net more useful but true evolution comes from how that usefulness is employed, not expanded usefulness in and of itself. We are at the tail end of the Web2.0 stage. Characterized by communication and participation, Web2.0 is best represented by social networking applications such as Twitter, Facebook and the previously bloated comments sections of blogs. Web1.0 would thus be characterized by the effectiveness of information distribution and retrieval. So what will the next evolution, Web3.0 look, feel and sound like? It appears the next major movement forward will be characterized by new methods of interfacing with the Internet itself and by a renewed commitment to making Internet technologies truly beneficial to human-kind as opposed to simply more convenient. A piece published in today's New York Times by ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick takes a look at Tim O'Reilly's address to the Web2.0 Expo in San Francisco last night. In that address, O'Reilly identified five unique technologies he believes will push the Internet past the naggingly narcissistic stage of personal and professional promotion so prevalent in the Web2.0 phase. To quote Kirkpatrick,

    Two themes stood out: sensors will surpass humans in front of their keyboards as the primary data source on the web and Moore's Law will need to be applied to humanity's greatest problems.
    In other words, five years from now initiatives from companies such as IBM, Google, CERN and Cisco will have pushed our own user habits far beyond the formerly pre-adolescent, "I'm here now so take a look at me", phase. What would happen in your daily Internet usage habits if your Bluetooth ear-bug acted in conjunction with your cell phone display as an spoken-word browser? Instead of lugging a laptop around or being tethered to a desk by wires, plugs and peripheries, Google's iPhone voice search application combined with the iPhone's ability to make sense of physical gestures might soon free the human body from desk chairs and introduce a new realm of workplace anyplace. Similarly, what would happen to the world's economic structure if data was freely available to consumers regardless of place? Given the inability of government and institutions to fully monitor themselves, could the freeing up of public data combined with instant communication with those institutions offer the public the ability to effectively police the mechanisms of modern society? In turn, could the availability of open data move the public past the counter-productive hyper-partisan atmosphere that characterizes political culture today? It might if the public actually cared more about the actual state of society, economy and ecology. A trio of technologies being worked on by IBM, AMEE, NASA and Cisco might be the catalysts towards a better informed society that cares about itself more than it cares about celebrities like Britney Spears. Each of the innovations O'Reilly mentioned will provide individual consumers with far more information about their own consumption habits and the Earth's biosphere than we've ever had access to in human history. Such applications can easily be applied to political, economic and personal life. Web3.0 will combine the advances of the two previous evolutions with an extraordinary amount of information and far easier ways create and access it. It will make data gleaned from science more important that assumptions gleaned from supposition. Most importantly, the next evolution of the Internet might actually give individual users far more social, political and personal power than any generation has ever known. As our global society emerges from the economic nightmare we currently face, a new social order will emerge. Many of the post-WW2 structures will fall to obscurity as their usefulness and necessity are surpassed or superseded by the restructured global economy and political order. Those changes will make complex thinking more important than our current obsession with the mundane. In the new world order, everyone is an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs need to think, act and react quickly if they are going to thrive and succeed. The spate of technologies that point to the Web3.0 evolution might be the tools that take us as individuals there. The O'Reilly Web2.0 conference and expo continues today and tomorrow at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.