Monday, March 19, 2007

Upgrading to Web 3.0

The term "Web 2.0" was coined sometime in 2004 by Dale Dougherty of O'Reilly Media. Far from a new technical standard, Web 2.0 began as a marketing gimmick for the eponymous Web 2.0 Summit, an annual high tech trade show that will be in its fourth year as of October 2007. As Tim O'Reilly wrote in September of 2005:
"The bursting of the dot-com bubble in the fall of 2001 marked a turning point for the web. . . .

" . . . Far from having 'crashed,' the web was more important than ever, with exciting new applications and sites popping up with surprising regularity. What's more, the companies that had survived the collapse seemed to have some things in common. . . ."
Far from a universal or even ubiquitous technical meme, Web 2.0 has nonetheless come to mean many things to many people in the high tech industry while meaning absolutely nothing to others. But this hasn't stopped many people in the know from calling for a Web 3.0 upgrade. The first person worthy of note to call for such an upgrade was Jeffrey Zeldman, who did so tongue-in-cheek as part of a rant against the Web 2.0 meme:
"When I started designing websites, if the guy on the plane next to me asked what I did, I had to say something like 'digital marketing' if I wanted to avoid the uncomprehending stare.

"A few years later, if I told the passenger beside me I was a web designer, he or she would regard me with a reverence typically reserved for Stanley-Cup-winning Nobel Laureate rock stars.

"Then the bubble burst, and the same answer to the same question provoked looks of pity and barely concealed disgust. . . .

"[ . . . ]

"Eventually . . . [t]he web was "back" even though it had never left. . . .

"[ . . . ]

"But how to persuade the other sharks in the tank that this blood feast was different from the previous boom-and-bust? Easy: Dismiss everything that came before as 'Web 1.0.'"
As a technical meme, Web 3.0 assumes the validity of a still emerging Web 2.0 meme, and then asks, "Who and what will be left standing when the next economic bust and boom cycle has finished ravaging the Internet?" I'd like to think that sexy applications like natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and the Semantic Web will rise from the ashes. However, I've been through the cycle of disruptive technologies too many times to expect this sort of purposeful progress.


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