Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Web 3.0? Web 4.0? What to Expect Next from the Internet

I started blogging in 1999 before the term "blog" was coined. Blogging is relatively old technology, but it quickly became the first glimpse of what we now call Web 2.0, the user generated content version of the Web.

Today when we think of Web 2.0 we think of social networking, media, and sharing websites.

The first generation of the Web focused on distribution of existing content and information. Gradually libraries came online. New content was published both in print and on the Web. The leading experts on a variety of topics relied on the Web gatekeepers to distribute their information. What became important on the web was largely decided by Web developers and search engines.

In the last couple years the second version of the Web, the one that users created, has become incredibly important for social interaction and marketing. User created content coupled with networking and sharing have created minor celebrities on YouTube. It's created new advertising venues such as Facebook and MySpace. Websites such as Digg have shifted influence away for search engines and put it in the hands of users.

What will the next generation of the Web create?

While we don't know how the next revolution and evolution will look, I do have some predictions.

Today the Average Joe/Jane can contribute content to the web almost at will.

Tomorrow the web will be back in the hands of rocket scientists. The difference is, when the Web was created scientists were using it to share results. In the future scientists will be using it to create and collaborate.

The dynamic web that we see today will start to be used increasingly to solve problems great and small.

The Web could be used by the people for the good of all people. Imagine building a transportation network for AIDS drugs in rural Africa as easy as Craigslist can get rid of my old computer equipment or find you a rideshare across country. Imagine toppling a tyrannical dictator without violence simply by organizing the people. Imagining putting the best minds in the world in the same room on a whim to solve a problem. Imagine predicting the weather, earthquakes, and climate change to 99.9% accuracy because of access to tens of thousands of networked computers.

In the future access to streaming data, combined with user intelligence will give us the capabilities to solve problems like never before.

What does this mean for us?

Not only will we be able to market products in entirely new ways, but we will also be able to create products. We will see problems solved and proprietary intelligence created on a massive scale, as well as a microscale. Handfuls of like-minded users will be able to connect and be creative and innovative.

Individuals and small companies will be able to connect through specialized networks to virtually any other area of expertise. Have an idea for an invention? Create it, patent it, prototype it, and manufacture it simply by connecting with other individuals and organizations.

My prediction is that there won't be a new Facebook. We won't see the next Google. YouTube and Digg won't be replaced by something bigger and better. What we will find is that smaller social networks, specialized search protocols, and highly refined information sharing will become the norm.

Today most of us use five or six of the major websites on a regular basis, but we also visit favorite sites daily that are not well known. A small Star Trek fan site, a useful specialized calculator, or a website specific to our niche or industry are probably visited as frequently as Google or Yahoo by any individual user depending on their needs and interests.

The next generation of the Web will be focused on doing things together. It will still be user generated content, but now, highly specialized and refined. We will still share content, information, and bookmarks, but we will do it on a smaller scale, highly focused to solve problems that affect us as individuals rather than universally.

We are already seeing some of this today in science, technology, and business. The next evolution is when collaboration becomes part of our daily lives.
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