At a recent conference in Austin, Texas (the South by Southwest Interactive Festival), the future of the Web was a hot topic. The World Wide Web, of course, was built on top of the Internet and the original Web 1.0 could be called the Information Web. The Information Web became the Social Web (commonly called Web 2.0) when people started connecting information together in intriguing ways to enhance the surfing experience. In places like China, the Social Web dominates Web usage. Most analysts believe we are headed towards a Semantic Web (sometimes called Web 3.0). Back to Austin. Dan Fost, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, talks about the discussion that occurred there [“Don’t call the next phase Web 3.0,” 13 March 2007].
“A lot of folks want to know what the next phase of the Internet will be. Some people think it will be the ‘semantic Web,’ a way in which the computers get even more intelligent and understand the nuances of human language. Semantic Web doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, though, and there is an obvious candidate waiting in the wings: Web 3.0. That name, however, appears to be anathema to virtually everyone at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. No one even seems particularly enamored of Web 2.0, but Internet impresario Tim O’Reilly branded the movement and it seems to have stuck like a hideous tattoo that doesn’t look so good the morning after. Still, whatever the gurus come up with for a label, a handful of companies are out there doing the work that will help create the next-generation Internet.”
The San Francisco Chronicle was interested in this subject for obvious reasons — the proximity of Silicon Valley. According to Fost, San Francisco area companies were well represented in Austin.
“One firm, Powerset, is working on natural language search. Another, Danny Hillis’ Metaweb Technologies, is using the semantic Web principles to make Web-building tools. I met with another San Francisco company, Radar Networks, while in Austin. Radar is still in stealth mode, technically, although there are signs that it’s coming out of it. For one thing, it has a PR firm, and Chris Jones, director of products and operations, spent about an hour with me. Jones said to think of how a Google search can return hundreds of thousands of documents, and while many times the target is on the first page, many times it also completely misses the mark. ‘The tools right now out there are potentially reaching a point of diminishing returns,’ Jones said. ‘There’s so much information out there, and great information, but how do you sift through it, and who do you ask? We’re looking at how we can help consumers work with the vast amounts of information in their lives. How can we provide better precision in their searching? How can they get an idea of the big picture of this information?’ The answer may lie in part on the social networks that are part of Web 2.0. ‘We’re looking at tools that they can filter and work with their peer groups,’ Jones said. ‘We’re looking at the semantic Web as the next piece of social software.’ The company was founded by Nova Spivack, who is CEO, and who happens to be the grandson of the famed business guru, the late Peter Drucker. It raised $800,000 in angel funding led by Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital in September 2005, and it raised $4 million in a Series A round of venture capital, led by Vulcan and Leapfrog Ventures. Jones said the company hopes to emerge from stealth mode with a beta release this summer and hopes to have the software out by the end of the year. It will be a free service.”
I have written before about the difficulty of taking on a giant like Google (Wikiasari, Web 2.0, and Other Search Engines), but software developers are a hopelessly optimistic crowd. Like in the Field of Dreams, they believe if you build it they will come. When it comes to search engines, they may be right. Most people, when looking for information on the Web, want to get the right information right away. A program that saves time and effort when compared with today’s search engines will probably do very well. Word-of-mouth spreads fast in the information age and the cyber crowd can be quickly influenced to change to something better. I believe the Semantic Web will come and it will be followed by the Intelligent Web, which will go beyond semantic relations to use actual cognition. Whatever you want to call the Web of the future, change is just around the corner and innovations should be emerging fairly soon that will help us transition to that new Web.