Isn’t it odd to now think of the internet as an entity with a historical identity? Like a separate civilization it has grown from relatively simple infanthood into a complex and chaotic system of ever-changing rules and values. Web historians tend to break down the contemporary history of the internet into two separate phases, termed Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. Web 1.0 signifies the now-ancient era of simple information gathering. In 1993 the WWW was released, allowing websites to link with each other creating a web of information. Web2.0 is commonly thought to have gained prominence through user-generated content, such as blogs. The participatory aspect of Web2.0 will probably be remembered most for its apex platform, Facebook.
This begs the question: What is Web3.0? Where does the internet go from here, and what will the next web revolution look like?
Many believe that we are currently in the beginning stages of Web3.0 as defined as location-based services. Advances in mobile technology have allowed us to take the internet wherever we go. “Online” is no longer relegated to your office desk or bedroom, and naturally companies are now using this new situation to their advantage. The bourgeoning augmented reality movement allows for the digital manipulation of your vision of the real world, in real time. Your street becomes the landscape for a new video game, your living room wall a canvas for a Davinci. Foursquare, Facebook Places, Yelp and the like now not only want to know what you do online, they want to know what you do offline as well. It is easy to take this for granted as we are currently living in the developing stages of location, like standing inside of an airplane not realizing you are going 600 miles an hour, but take a step back and view it from a historical perspective. The internet is now a part of us, no different than the shoes on our feet or the ring on our finger. In short, the web has evolved to go off the grid. Is this Web3.0? Maybe.
Others have a different theory of Web3.0. They use the term “semantic web” to describe it as the next step in web personalization. A little tougher to explain than location-based services, the semantic web essentially refers to the ability to teach machines to use the internet in the same way as humans do. Machines will be able to understand the semantics, or meaning, behind the data they receive and store, allowing for an exponentially higher level of personalization for the end user. Perhaps it’s best to use a hypothetical example:
In 2014 you will be searching the web on your iPhone 10.0. You type “I’m hungry, I want to eat somewhere totally sweet” into Google. The browser will then bring up a list of places in the area that, based on previous information, it knows you will find “totally sweet” meaning in normal language, “good.” Google will know that you don’t particularly like chicken salad, but love a good burger. Google will also know that you have been on a diet recently, and will suggest some healthier options as well. On the way to the restaurant Google has recommended, that girl whose profile on Facebook you look at a little too much just checked in to a different restaurant down the street. Google will let you know, but notify you that the place specializes in fattening mayo-heavy chicken salad. After that, the decision is up to you.
The semantic web will allow machines to act as human replacements in a manner never before seen. Everything from the way news is distributed to the way national economies interact with each other will have the potential to be handled by computational algorithms. We have already seen the origins of this technology. Watson, the famous computer Jeopardy wiz, is a semantic web prototype. The technology behind Watson allowed it to understand natural human language (well, as natural as the Jeopardy questions are) and also evaluate the human strategy behind what is going on in that particular game of which he is a part. Is this Web3.0? Maybe.
Finally, there is a third theory as to what the next web revolution has in store for us. Some have theorized that, while location and semantics are cool, the truly innovative change will take place when we have developed the ability to let computers generate original content themselves. Computers won’t just interact with each other as humans do, they will conceive originals ideas and content and then proceed to interact with each other. Think this is the innovation of an unknown time in the distant future? Think again. Computational Biology researchers at Aberystwyth University in England have developed a robot appropriately named “Adam” that can actually think of new scientific hypotheses, develop testing procedures, and then determine if its hypotheses are true or not. The machine has actually discovered new scientific knowledge independent of human assistance. If applied online, is this Web3.0? Maybe.
As you can see, there is no clear consensus of what will be defined as Web3.0. Will it be one of these options? Will it be all three in tandem? Will it involve capabilities not yet conceptualized? The speed at which the web is developing is still accelerating, and as more of human time and energy is spent in front of the screen, the ideas to alter our own lives through that screen will simultaneously become more grandiose and more easily attainable. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking of Web4.0.