The buzz is growing about Web 3.0, but as usual you have to filter out all the hype, self-serving PR, old-fashioned nonsense, newfangled marketing verbiage and other noise. You will then find a few facts that you can grab onto and try to figure out what's going on. The first thing to remember is that, like "Web 2.0," the term Web 3.0 is not an official term of any sort, does not represent any particular protocol or standard, belongs to no one - and is used, misused and made nearly meaningless by everybody. It is, quite simply, just an arbitrary "version number" that, at most, describes how the Internet is built and how it delivers services, at least as of the freeze-framed moment in time that represents the end of 2.0 and the start of 3.0.
Sometimes it is called the "semantic Web," but perhaps the less-used term "everyware" is more descriptive. The new scenario is one of ubiquitous computing, the advent of cloud computing where a "thin client" (no- or low-powered PC, or even just a monitor and mouse) runs cloud-based applications using cloud-based data and services. The Apple iPhone, iPod and iPad are all examples of formerly standalone devices that were integrated into the Web, and connect people in a seamless, real-time and very simple way with - well, with everything, from libraries and department stores to other people, anywhere in the world.
From Read-Only to Interactivity
One of the Web's true "parents" was Tim Berners-Lee, who had his own notion of how the technology and the Internet developed. The first phase of the Web had read-only capabilities. It was essentially a spectator experience until read-write functionality came along (sure, call it Web 2.0) that included services to enable contribution, collaboration, content creation and interactivity. The next step in Berners-Lee's version vision, Web 3.0, is heralded as "new territory," where users can assemble and run their own applications, create all sorts of cooperative and collaborative enterprises, and truly put their ideas in motion rather than simply uploading stuff to this, that or the other site.
People with money invested in other, still-useful devices - phones, PDAs, fax machines, etc. - don't have to worry about Web 3.0 making them obsolete. In addition to letting users create their own tools, Web 3.0 is another step in the evolution of usage and interaction in which the Internet holds multiple databases and content that will be accessible to many non-browser-based devices and applications. The obvious uses will be video that streams from a PC to a TV, picture frames that receive wireless updates from an online or local photo app, and phones that display items recommended by your trusted sources - friends, review sites, experts - when you're shopping.
From Data to Knowledge
In addition to the foregoing characteristics, Web 3.0 is also said to encompass other important advances. For one thing, all sorts of inputs are possible, which means all sorts of new combinations become possible. Content can be made even more broadly relevant when it's related to GPS, so that social networking, for example, can be enhanced by knowing who is where and doing what.
More importantly, you will get more and better control of your data and be able to establish a number of personalization systems to "wrap" your personal information with different levels and types of protection - so that you can share it widely, narrowly or not at all. Over time, the accuracy of recommendations and trustworthiness of ranking systems will help us determine which data sources to take seriously and which to avoid.
From Business Faxes to Online Games
With the rise of "linkable web apps" you will be able to use all of your different desktop, server and mobile devices and applications - telephones, fax machines and online fax services, instant messaging, pagers - and control them from a single browser window on your desktop, smartphone or handheld device. All of it will take place in an always-on, always-everywhere environment, with functionality embedded sometimes in hardware, sometimes in software, sometimes in both - so that when you need to take care of business without downloading the capability, you'll be able to do so.
Along with more of the visual and voice-based services that are already starting to proliferate, there will be more lifelike avatar interactions in the growing virtual social networking world. This will lead to social shopping trips and virtual reality gaming far beyond anything currently being done.
In mid-2009, the "Wall Street Journal" ran a story on the development of Web 3.0 capabilities and the promise of ever-greater interconnectedness among technologies, products, services and people. The story even gave us a yardstick by which to measure the success of Web 3.0, if in fact it does succeed. If, as the WSJ puts it, "computing could become as integrated and invisible as electricity and just as important" - and we can attribute it to the new and improved Web - we'll know that the promise has lived up to the hype. Here's hoping!