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Web 3.0: Does Anybody Really Know What It Will Be?

October 8, 2013


Half a dozen years ago I wrote a post entitled Web 3.0 Still Advancing — Even if People Don’t Know What to Call It. I noted that Web 1.0 could be called the Information Web and that the Information Web morphed into the Social Web (commonly called Web 2.0). For most of the intervening years, people have been talking about the Semantic Web being the successor to the Social Web and they have been referring to it as Web 3.0. Back in 2009, however, Miguel Helft wrote about the amazing rise of “Twitter, Facebook, and other similar services” and how they “are increasingly becoming the nation’s virtual water coolers. They spread information quickly, sometimes before the mass media do, and their ricocheting bursts of text and links become an instant record of Americans’ collective preoccupations.” Helft labeled the next evolution in the Web “Real-Time Search.” [“How High Will Real-Time Search Fly?New York Times, 24 October 2009] He didn’t refer to Real-Time Search as Web 3.0, but he clearly saw it as the next step towards something new.


The following year Alice Truong interviewed Herman Lam, chief executive of Cyberport Management Company Limited, a government-owned company in Hong Kong that manages a development called Cyberport, which was supposed to be Hong Kong’s silicon valley. During that interview, Lam did talk specifically about Web 3.0, but not as the Semantic Web. He simply called Web 3.0 “smarter computing.” [“How to Make Web 3.0 Reality,” Wall Street Journal, 7 December 2010] Lam told Truong:

“Web 3.0 is about how to make life even easier for us in the future. We believe with all this technological change that we could be looking at a paradigm shift and how people interact with the Web. When this changes, it opens up an opportunity for small startups, new companies and young entrepreneurs. … In the world of Web 3.0, the Internet should know I won’t be able to watch my favorite TV show. It should automatically record it and book a time slot for me to catch up on this show.”

Lam’s vision of Web 3.0 is certainly something different than Helft’s Real-Time Search and certainly doesn’t sound like traditional descriptions of the Semantic Web. It sounds more like a cross between a personal digital assistant and a smart TV. Daniel Nations probably got it right when he wrote, “The truth is that predicting the Web 3.0 future is a guessing game. A fundamental change in how we use the web could be based on an evolution of how we are using the web now, a breakthrough in web technology, or just a technological breakthrough in general.” [“What is Web 3.0?About.com] Nation’s goes on to state, “Many people ponder the use of advanced artificial intelligence as the next big breakthrough on the web. One of the chief advantages of social media is that it factors in human intelligence.” Certainly, the Semantic Web won’t emerge without artificial intelligence technology. Concerning the Semantic Web, Nations writes:

“There is already a lot of work going into the idea of a semantic web, which is a web where all information is categorized and stored in such a way that a computer can understand it as well as a human. Many view this as a combination of artificial intelligence and the semantic web. The semantic web will teach the computer what the data means, and this will evolve into artificial intelligence that can utilize that information.”

Another possibility raised by Nations is what he calls the “Ever-Present Web 3.0.” He explains:

“Not so much a prediction of what the Web 3.0 future holds so much as the catalyst that will bring it about, the ever-present Web 3.0 has to do with the increasing popularity of mobile Internet devices and the merger of entertainment systems and the Web. The merger of computers as a source for music, movies, and more puts the Internet at the center of both our work and our play. Within a decade, Internet access on our mobile devices (cell phones, smartphones, pocket pcs) will be as popular as text messaging. This will make the Internet always present in our lives: at work, at home, on the road, out to dinner, wherever we go, the Internet will be there.”

More recently the so-called Internet of Things has been put forth as a viable candidate for Web 3.0. [“Introducing Web 3.0: Internet of Things,” by Xath Cruz, Cloud Times, 9 September 2013] As I’ve explained in previous posts about the Internet of Things, it’s basically a machine-to-machine network. Cruz explains that it “basically refers to the concept of every gadget and appliance we own being interconnected via the Internet.” Sarah Perez acknowledges that both the Ever-Present Web and the Internet of Things were potential candidates to be crowned Web 3.0, but notes: “None of these got to win the Web 3.0 branding.” Perez nominates another candidate — the Ephemeralnet. [“The Rise Of The Ephemeralnet,” TechCrunch, 30 June 2013] She believes the Ephemeral Net will emerge as people combine the desire to share their lives with friends as well as maintain a modicum of privacy. She writes:

“While some confuse the ‘Ephemeralnet’ with the so-called ‘SnapchatNet,’ in reality, it’s not only a new way to socialize online, it’s a new way to think about everything. You can see the trend also in the rise of the (somewhat) anonymous and untraceable digital currency Bitcoin. Unlike traditional transactions, Bitcoin is decentralized and doesn’t require banks or governmental oversight or involvement. And though it’s not entirely anonymous, there are already efforts, like Zerocoin, working to change that. … At the end of the day, the Ephemeralnet may never get to become as defining a trend as Web 2.0 once was. Though it may find adoption beyond the demographics of its youngest participants, it will continue to share the web with the services that preceded it – services too big, too habitual, and too lucrative, to die off entirely.”

Kevin Lindquist labels his version of Web 3.0 “‘The Integrated Web’ (Not ‘The Semantic Web’).” [“Web 3.0 is Here! Is Your Small Business Ready?YFS Magazine, 30 August 2013] He explains:

“Many are pushing for this thing called ‘The Semantic Web’ where an app will be able to understand user interaction in such a way that it will not only return directly relevant results, but also indirectly relevant results. For instance, a search for ‘showtimes 84003’ returning what time movies are playing at the Cinemark in American Fork, Utah, including nearby places for dinner (because you are probably going on a date) or gas stations en route because it knows that your car is out of gas. These concepts are exciting, innovative, and forward thinking, but there is a critical evolutionary step missing in between the ‘The Social Web’ and ‘The Semantic Web’. Instead of the telephone lines that we constructed between web apps and services during Web 2.0, Web 3.0 brings bridges and process to support the future of the app. Integrated services are the future, integrated applications of those services will take over the world. Being able to take one object, and pass it through multiple services to accomplish a task is that critical evolutionary step before ‘The Semantic Web’ becomes meaningful. Instead of a world where the app returns data about indirectly relevant things, what if it could instead automatically perform those indirectly relevant services for you upon approval? In other words, if you are going to show me ‘The Semantic Web’ show me a semantic web that can get things done without me needing to go between a number of different apps, web pages, etc.”

I started this post with a reference to another post I wrote six years ago. Over those six years, there have been a number of technological advances. One thing that hasn’t advanced, however, is agreement on what Web 3.0 should be called and what exactly its characteristics will be. In the end, that really doesn’t matter very much. We will get what we will get — and we will probably like it.

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