Friday, October 24, 2008

The Past, Present and Future of the Web

Introduction
Where have we been with the web? Where are we now? And where are we going? Some people would answer that in the first phase, we were in Web 1.0, and that now we are in the second phase or Web 2.0. But what does the transition mean to Web start-ups, “brick & mortar” companies, and consumers? These are the questions this paper will try to address.
By understanding the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, we may also improve our capability to see what we should be doing now in preparation of the next phase of the internet. What are we to make of Web 3.0 or Semantic Web 2.0 or Pragmatic Semantic Web? But let us begin with the promise of the internet.

For many, the promise of the World Wide Web has always been to create a virtual society in which web spaces are the residents. It has promised to make the access of information, communication with others, and commerce much easier and perhaps more enjoyable. When we think about a virtual online community, we think of the “real” world in which we live, but we expect for all of our activities to be more productive – taking less time and effort. According to a Pew Research Center study in 2000, people are “goal oriented users.” A Zatso Survey showed in 2006 that finding information, communication, commerce, managing finances, and being entertained were the key activities on the web.

So how does the virtual world of the Web work? When you think about it, web pages are like people. They have a personality. Just like people, they have different capabilities and competencies. Hyperlinks are the way that web pages relate to each other. But this is where the comparison begins to breakdown because for most of the web, the services are only reactive. People are interactive. But as the Web evolves, services will become more active and proactive, mirroring our human experience. This is when we begin to see where the Web is going next.

Web 1.0 – The beginning

In Web 1.0, web pages were for people to read and be informed. In the first generation of the Web, the majority of hyperlinks were manually assigned by webmasters. In Web 1.0, the pages contain only reactive functions or services.

Web 1.0 pages could not deliver messages back to their creators. If webmasters looked for feedback from readers of their sites, they had to keep a block of "Contact Information" on their web pages. Otherwise, no messages could be delivered back to them.

The hyperlink model of Web 1.0 was also manual, and when it was ended, it terminated completely. In the world of Web 1.0, human interactions were required by nearly all valuable web operations, and most of these interactions were controlled by a small group of webmasters and IT professionals.

In the early days of the Internet, e-mail provided one-to-one communications until the advent of the “cc” and mailing lists. The advent of HTML and the Web ushered in the one-to-many publishing era, and wikis and weblogs took things to the next level by adding a framework for collaborative authoring and publishing, while RSS creates the vehicle for distribution and syndication to a large number of sites. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let's understand how this "one-to-one" has moved to "many to many."

Web 2.0 – The rise of the Social

The worldwide web has been a success, but its first generation made more promises than delivered results – for consumers and for businesses. So what should we make of Web 2.0? How has it improved upon Web 1.0? How has it evolved? Honestly, many of the elemental concepts of Web 2.0 already existed in Web 1.0. Computer Scientists argue that there is basically no theoretical advancement in Web 2.0 from Web 1.0. But there are new technologies such as AJAX. The success of Web 2.0 lies on the success of two technologies: blogging and tagging. Though there are numerous Web 2.0 companies that provide various services, almost all of them stand upon these two technologies. In addition to the two, they add their specialties. For example, YouTube adds videos and Flickr adds photos. Essentially, blogging enhances the character of content, and tagging enhances the character of link. The blogging technology extends the update of content from personal activities to social activities. The tagging technology enables the creation of hyperlinks from tedious, individual behaviors to handy, collaborative behaviors.

Web 2.0 webmasters (typically blog owners) play a more important role than before on updating web pages. Once web pages have been created, Web 1.0 webmasters often only update them occasionally and slightly (such as updating daily prices). Web 2.0 webmasters, however, often significantly update web content (such as adding new blog posts). Also, through the activity of tagging, Web 2.0 webmasters teach their own web pages (which could be such as blogs, or YouTube's personal account web pages containing individual lists of favorites) new knowledge of web facts. Shared tags thus construct implicit hyperlinks among varied web pages. Most of these links could not have been created within the frame of Web 1.0.

By tagging a Web 2.0 page (such as a blog), it allows machines to recognize the content of the page. Web 2.0 evolved from 1.0 in the use of collaborative tagging with the use of common language. This has been labeled folksonomy. This system is much less formal than the subject indexing of Web 1.0. Collaborate tagging in Web 2.0 does not rely upon deep hierarchical structures. Their structure is often flat and broad. Moreover, the inter-relationships among folksonomy concepts is very casual. This is the current status of Web 2.0. By clicking tags, a Web 2.0 page can automatically re-direct web readers to "relevant" pages, which share the same tags. In fact, however, many of these "relevant" pages may not be so relevant.

Blogging technology enhances web pages with the important capability of mediation between webmasters and readers. Neither webmasters nor readers need to publish their private contact information (unless they are willing to do so) to join a communication. In fact, one could argue that this development is the first sign that World Wide Web is going to be independent of the human society. In the next evolution, the current blogging technology for humans could one day be enabled for machine agents. When machines start blogging to each other, the participation of human users is not necessary.

But for today, the practical application of blogging and tagging is to bring people together who have a common interest. Web 2.0 uses both features to build social networks. The blogging behaviors directly bring readers to the publishers. The tagging behaviors create more tags. By sharing common tags, different Web 2.0 pages are also linked. Unlike the manual and hardcoded hyperlinks in Web 1.0 pages, these Web 2.0 links created by social activities are hard to be removed because they are objective.
Another dynamic element of Web 2.0 is the “mashup.” In Web 1.0, users did not create unique services for their web pages by combining data from disparate sources. Web 2.0, however, encourages its users to build interesting and personalized service components, such as web widgets. The spread of web widgets leverages mashup applications, like Wii Seeker, Zillow, iGuide or Radioclouds.

Additionally, Web 2.0 begins to realize the theory of collective intelligence with the rise of wikis. A wiki is a web page or collection of web pages which can enable anyone to who accesses them to contribute or modify content. This is the first step towards collective intelligence. What is most exciting about wikis, is that they are yet to really catch on. The initial promise that “everyone can contribute and edit” with Wikipedia has fallen short due in part to the intimidation people feel with the programming language, PHP, built upon the MySQL database. While true that anybody can contribute, there is still a hierarchy. There are “stewards,” “bureaucrats” and “administrators. Many contributors are identified only by IP address, while others use screen names. Several hundred administrators have the power to delete entries and block IP addresses to keep vandals from changing content.

As wikis become easy to use for everyone, then the convergence of technology and information content will continue to challenge the formerly hierarchical flow of content from creation through use. This is “Social Publishing,” and it is the latest step in this disintermediation of the hierarchy, enabling authors to publish and organize content for viewing and comment by anyone with access to the Internet. The principal content creation and management tools used in social publishing are weblogs and wikis (tools for creating and linking Web content). And really simple syndication (RSS) is the main tool for syndication and distribution. In the very near future, the majority of web sites will include all of the attributes discussed in this posting. Further, I believe that high order software systems that take stock of this entire landscape are going to be in high demand. I also believe that acquiring completely separate software systems to implement each of the patterns is more costly and risky than using a unified system that handles all of the patterns well. That will be true for individuals and for businesses.

2 comments:

Taylor said...

Timely, because I have been wondering lately what web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 mean as the guys around here throw around those terms. But just to confirm, they are just phases of web development, or "movements" if you will, correct? Not tangible? Also, what do you believe 3.0 to be?

Thanks!

Jeff Bell said...

Taylor,

I will add my thoughts on Web 3.0 this week. Stay tuned.

Jeff