New Web technologies offer an online future with an intelligent, Semantic Web, personalisation, virtual worlds and access everywhere.
Although the origins of the Internet date back to the 1950′s, the Web as we know it today didn’t emerge until 1990. A December 2009 report from Netcraft showed there were 240 million Web sites in the world by the end of 2009 and in the past ten years Web 2.0 has emerged with its emphasis on user participation and social media, including blogs and sites such as Facebook.
But the evolution of the Web never stops and the online future is moving towards the Semantic Web and Web 3.0 and 4.0 technologies that will transform the way people interact online and change perceptions of what the Web actually is…
What is Web 3.0 and Web 4.0?
Like Web 2.0, the terms ‘Web 3.0′ and ‘Web 4.0′ are buzzwords that refer to enhancements and changes to how people use the Web, rather than an entirely new Web. These terms have been used for many years by people including Amazon’s Chief Scientist Andreas Weigend and author Seth Godin.
There’s no clear definition of what Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 will actually consist of but it should comprise a more intelligent Web (called the ‘Semantic Web’), personalisation, virtual worlds and the ability for almost any device or object to be online.
The Semantic Web
Today’s Web is designed to be used primarily only by people but the Semantic Web,a term coined by Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the Web) , will make it understandable by computers as well. This will allow computers to perform tasks that could essentially lead to a world where a number of daily operations, such as finance and trade, could be automatically undertaken with little or no human intervention.
To build the Semantic Web will require a huge change in how Web sites are constructed so computers can understand them. This is partly already happening today with languages such as XML, which separate content from the format of a page, but this needs to be advanced further and common standards agreed so that data is represented online in a more consistent format.
Web Personalisation and Personal Agents
A big advance that will be made more likely by the introduction of the Semantic Web will be a more personalised online experience, including virtual ‘personal agents’ for users that will learn from experience just as people do.
For example, a personal agent may identify an exhibition occurring in another country that their user may want to attend and, after checking their diary for availability, alert them of this and ask if they want to attend. The personal agent could then book the flights by talking to other computers (choosing a window seat because their user prefers them and choosing an airline that their user rates highly), book airport parking or a taxi, selecting a hotel and booking exhibition tickets and even let their user know if they have customers who are attending the exhibition as well and book meetings with them by speaking to their personal agents.
Personalisation will mean content is pushed to users, rather than them looking for it, as their personal agents will be aware of what they are interested in (by what they’ve been told and what their user has looked at previously).
Creating a more personal experience has been a goal for Google for several years. In an interview with the Financial Times on May 22nd 2007, the company’s Chief Executive, Eric Schmidt, was quoted as saying: “The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’”. The Semantic Web will make this possible.
Achieving this advanced personalisation though will require more information about individuals to be stored online so that the correct decisions can be made for them and this may lead to privacy issues that some people could find unacceptable. It will also require more advanced Artificial Intelligence for computers to make sense of all the data available.
The concept of virtual worlds, where users interact online in simulated environments, is not new and examples have existed for several decades. Probably the most famous virtual world today is Second Life, which launched in 2003 and, according to developer Linden Research, had 18 million user accounts created by January 2010. Other examples include PlayStation Home for the PS3 and even online games such as World of Warcraft.
In addition to possibly making communication between people more natural by allowing them to interact as avatars in 3D simulated environments, it will also radically change how people interact with content. For example, a car manufacturer’s Web site could be enhanced by allowing users to walk around a virtual dealership where they can see all the vehicles and take them for test drives. The emergence of 3D displays and advanced motion control systems, such as Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360, will allow for even more lifelike simulations.
The Pervasive Web
A Web that’s everywhere is the basic concept behind the Pervasive Web. The Web has already moved on from being shackled to desktop and laptop computers and is increasingly being used on mobile phones too. The Pervasive Web is one where devices and objects such as cars, kitchen appliances, televisions, even mirrors and clothes, are all connected to the Web and able to share information.
A common example of this is a fridge which can automatically add food to a shopping list as it’s consumed but another is bedroom windows that automatically open based upon weather conditions. A Pervasive Web is one where everything’s connected and it also blends the digital world with the real world through ‘geotagging’ and ‘augmented reality’ so people will be able to use their mobile devices, for example, to gain information based upon their location.
The future of the Web is a vision that’s changing all the time as new technologies are developed but it can be expected to be one that’s smarter, more personalised and everywhere. The Semantic Web will be a major part of this but what the Web of 2050 may look like is almost impossible to imagine.
Learn more about future technologies and the impact of the Technological Singularity.
This article was originally published by the author on Suite101 and is republished with permission.
Main image copyright Sam Howzit on Flickr.