The Internet has come a long way over the course of its relatively short life, so far. For years, web enthusiasts and tech analysts have been trying to predict what major trend will come next to define the future state of the web.
Most of us can remember our very first experiences online. Accessing information through Yahoo! search for the first time was like going to a virtual library, and the use of email really opened up new possibilities for faster communication with others.
The term Web 2.0 was first used back in 1999 to describe the second generation of the web. It’s been more than a decade since then, and most of us still don’t know if we’ve transitioned to the third generation of the web just yet.
Many people would say that Web 3.0 has already arrived – or at least the very beginning of it has. Others argue it will be years before we’re fully submerged in the next generation of the web.
What distinguishes a past state of the web from a current or future state of the web depends entirely on the changing habits of how people are using it rather than the technology itself. So far, we’ve been able to break it down into three progressive stages.
Web 1.0 was all about getting connected to a “read-only” web. It was ruled by web giants like Netscape, Yahoo!, eBay and AOL. We saw the rise of email, chat rooms and the very first ecommerce sites during this time.
Web 2.0 was everything social, where people could really start creating and sharing content. The web moved away from static content sites toward sites where users could actively contribute and share information, like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and various blogging or content publishing platforms.
Web 3.0 is difficult to define, mainly because (a) it hasn’t fully arrived yet, and (b) everyone has their own idea of what it might or might not be. Most of us can usually agree that this “future” state of the web will encompass everything we have in Web 2.0, but now there’s a more connective intelligence aspect to it, we’ve gone mobile and our web experiences are becoming much more personalized.
The future of the web will likely be characterized by a combination of three major cumulative changes. We’ll see the big shift toward mobile, semantic processing of data for more relevant and personalized results, and the implementation of a new generation of analytics tools to help us process large quantities of data.
The Mobile Shift
We’ve already taken a huge part of our web browsing and social networking to mobile platforms like smartphones and tablets and other devices, away from the traditional desktop or laptop computer. Mobile apps and smaller devices allow us to take advantage of real-time self-expression and access information quickly on the go.
Smartphones and tablets are actually changing the way we interact with each other and access the web. A mobile-friendly web allows us to feel more connected to the world around us, strengthens relationships with our contacts and interests, and the availability of social web-based apps makes it easier than ever to use the web for almost any hobby or activity – whether it’s used for exercise, finding a restaurant location or building a shopping list.
Since we access and use information on the mobile web differently from the traditional web, anyone trying to reach people through a website will need to completely rethink how those people do it from a mobile platform. In almost any case, the end-user experience of any traditional web service will need to be completely reengineered to work effectively with real-time, on-the-go, location-based user activity.
The Semantic Web
The semantic web is a term originally coined by Tim-Berners-Lee that describes an extension of the web where information is connected together on a completely global scale in a way that machines can understand it and recognize relationships in a comparably human-like way.
The amount of information created and published online continues to grow at an exponential rate, and that’s a problem for search engines that need to weed out the irrelevant content so it can return the best results. Rather than simply just cutting out all the garbage from search, we’re now envisioning a web that will eventually rely on one massive and completely global database, where each individual piece is data is interrelated, so that machines can communicate with one another to deliver results that are catered to your very own cultural, regional and personal attributes.
The goal of the semantic web is to produce a version the web that thinks more like a real human and less like a machine, so it can basically give us what we want before we practically even know that we want it. It will be some time before such an advanced global system is fully developed and implemented, and you can find out more about it on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) website.
Big Data is another relatively new phenomenon that many people believe will bring on the shift toward Web 3.0. The term Big Data is used to describe quantities of data so large, so diverse and so fast-moving that modern-day database systems don’t have the capacity to process it.
Now that we live in an information age with zettabytes of data available, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to dig through all of it to find the useful chunks of information we might need. Thanks to Web 2.0, we’re now all content creators adding useful pieces of data every second through our tweets, our Facebook updates, our YouTube videos, photo uploads, our blog posts, our comments, our conversations and everything else we put online. As that big pile of data continues to grow, the problems associated with processing it within an ideal amount of time grow as well.
The enterprise world is starting to recognize the need for systems that help them store, protect, backup, organize, and catalog big data – all while minimizing costs and ensuring all critical data can be accessed when needed. With an exceptional tool that specializes in analyzing very large data sets, businesses will be able to make sense of all this data and mine out valuable patterns that are hiding in it.
A More “Meaningful” Web
If there’s any short and sweet way to describe the next generation of the web, it’s this: meaningful data. Bringing information on the web together and delivering it to us in a way that we can really use it because it knows us well, knows our situation, knows what we like (or don’t like) and knows what we want will be what sets the next stage of the web apart from the previous one.
Some people argue that the Web 3.0 will be marked by the convergence between the virtual and the physical world, where the web becomes a completely essential part of most of your everyday activities. Others argue that there is no Web 3.0, or that we shouldn’t even call it Web 3.0, because it cannot be defined by any of the things described in this article.
Whatever it is, and whatever you want to call it – Web 3.0, the Semantic Web, the Intelligent Web, the next generation of the Internet – it’s coming (eventually), and it’s going to be awesome. I hope that we can all at least agree on that, for now.