Thursday, December 24, 2009

Web 3.0

No one reads this blog (or at least very few do), so it shouldn't be too presumptuous of me to call Web 3.0.

Web 2.0, of course, famously called by Tim O'Reilly, was about social networking and user-generated content, which turned the one-way, static pull of web pages into a two-way dialog. It snuck up on us, just as Web 3.0 has done.

Web 3.0, in my view, is about emergent functionality. Where Web 1.0 and 2.0 were still about dedicated web clients, Web 3.0 is about web-aware applications and the way web functionality changes when lots of portable devices and new types of sensors become clients.

Let's take the iPhone as an example. Google Maps is a traditional web application, but adding location services makes it possible to show you where you are on that map. Connect location awareness to data bases of restaurants, subway stops, and all the other location-related information you might ever need, and you get emergent search functionality that produces relevant local results.

That's a simple one. Let's take some more subtle ones.

Continuing with Google Maps, a recently added feature uses velocity information provided by Google Maps users who have location services enabled on their phones to show traffic status. When enough data are available from a given location, the map shows how quickly traffic is moving, even in those locations where traditional fixed sensors and cameras are not available.

The Urban Spoon app for the iPhone lets users take photographs of restaurant menus and upload them to the Urban Spoon site. The application then makes those menus available to users of the app.

Google Goggles lets users search on objects that they take photographs of with their mobile devices.

Amazon's Kindle application lets users download and read books on their mobile devices. Reading locations are uploaded back to the server so they can be synchronized across all a users' various devices. That is, when I stop reading a book on my iPhone and start reading the same book on my iPod or my Kindle, I pick up where I left off on the iPhone.

Augmented Reality is the recently-coined term for overlaying location-specific information on a camera view. The application uses location information from GPS, direction information from the compass, and visual information from the camera to overlay labels onto the camera scene showing items of interest.

Google Voice lets a person associate a single phone number to all of that person's phones and manage all phone-related information in one place.

The iPhone itself is a fully capable web client, not needing the support or intervention of a computer to download content, update functionality, etc. Need an inclinometer, or a sound pressure level meter? Download the app you need from Apple's app store directly on the device. Want to listen to a radio station that's across the country? Download the app you need, right on the device. This makes the device capable of becoming almost any information tool that you might need, because it's connected to a service that can instantly provide an almost limitless range of functionality. The same can be said of Amazon's Kindle, or its Kindle app - since you can order and download books directly from and to the device, the entire Kindle library is practically in your pocket.

Web 3.0 moves beyond traditional web clients (browsers running on personal computers) to incorporate any application for which web-awareness can provide emergent functionality. As the number and sophistication of portable devices and their associated sensing capabilities grow, I expect that we'll all be using dedicated, web-aware applications more and general purpose browsers less. Also, the range of emergent functionality that's possible in this world is only now being explored. To me, this is the next big wave of web development, and that's why it merits being called Web 3.0.