It’s been five years now that we’ve begun to understand what Web 2.0 is, starting way back in 2003. It’s been a fairly impressive if winding road as a new online generation was born. But far from getting long in the tooth, along the way Web 2.0 became vitally important — even central in some cases — to the very future of global culture and business. Oh certainly, sometimes we get tired of the term itself, and admittedly it doesn’t describe something necessarily new anymore, but what we just do these days. But the concepts identified as Web 2.0 have proved to be highly insightful, even prescient, and are used around the world daily to guide everything from product development to the future of government.
It has been today’s commonplace use of intensely popular and deeply pervasive social networks, the outright transformation of industries such as media and software, and the growing dominance of 2.0 techniques such as user generated content, open business methods, crowdsourcing, Enterprise 2.0, open APIs — in the business world and elsewhere — which has been striking, even if there’s a long way to go in some quarters. Indeed, Web 2.0 is not just here to stay, it seems to be a revolution that just keeps on rolling and giving us, as I often say in my talks, an amazingly resourceful and resilient new lens with which to 1) look at the world and 2) the network that now surrounds it, and 3) the opportunities between the two.
Now, to paraphrase Churchill, “Now this is not the end. … But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning” of Web 2.0, many are starting to perceive deeper patterns and concepts within Web 2.0 practices. We can perhaps now see more clearly the next steps towards what some would like to call Web 3.0, and which Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle have decided to dub Web Squared, the deeper explanation of which you can find here on the Web 2.0 Summit site. Whether we need a new term and whether Web Squared will be as accepted, or at least as widely repeated, as Web 2.0 is perhaps unlikely but it nevertheless is a cogent, if necessarily, incomplete next progression. What is certain is, that like Web 2.0, the ideas within it are useful new strategic ones that are emerging from the countless practical experiences of Internet practitioners everywhere in the world’s largest living laboratory: The Internet.
At its core, the message is that the Web is becoming more autonomic, reflective, real-time, generative, and open while at the same time far more deeply embedded everywhere in the fabric of our environment. And like what came before it, Web Squared is likely to have profound impact to the societies and organizations, either way, that choose to understand it or ignore it.
What is Web Squared?
While this is my personal take, Web Squared articulates a broader fusion between the world-at-large, the Web, and the people connected to it. It’s a more extreme view of Web 2.0 while at the same time hinting that while social computing has been a major transformative force recently in the consumer world and beyond, the’s relentless growth of devices, network connectivity, and sensors into our lives across our homes, workplaces, and external environment is casting an growing “information shadow” that is increasingly hard to ignore. At first glance this can seem to be an impersonal and inhuman concept as the network expands to surround everything and dominate the participation that so far at least is still driven (for a little bit longer anyway) by what people do and contribute online. However, this bleak vision is tempered by the realization that far from being pushed to the side, we collectively must be the feedback loop that guides Web Squared through billions of daily interactions that makes it possible in the first place. It’s the full environment, including us, which makes it all work.
The comparison above gives a cleaner, most succinct sense of what Web Squared is by comparing it to Web 1.0 and classic Web 2.0. It’s not necessarily a generation beyond Web 2.0 since many of the concepts are simply more refined or focused. But the “knobs” on many Web 2.0 ideas like collective intelligence, feedback loops, network effects, and so on are turned up quite a bit more and are fueled more directly by our interactions with the world as well as our synthesis of it. We know now how to sharpen the scalpels that we use to design our online businesses a good bit better and Web Squared reflects this.
For my own part, it’s a useful evolution of Web 2.0 even if it’s not quite as dramatically transformative culturally. However, the implications in terms of the types of new businesses that will be created have the potential to be as potent as Google (or even more so) when it comes to cornering the market on new classes of data and therefore entire industries, since most winners in on the online space have outsized dominance of their sectors. You want to use Web 2.0 ideas for the most impact? Think in terms of Web Squared.
I’ll be exploring the concepts of Web Squared in further depth here as I am able, but it’s clear that we need to take what we’ve learned in the Web 2.0 era and focus on emerging techniques that seem particular promising. In particular, I think the key aspect of Web Squared will lie in teaching our applications to “learn inferentially” from our online product’s strategic sets of data and drive out previously hidden value. That’s where being able to create powerful new autonomic, environmentally-connected, database-driven applications, often from ecosystems of partners that will provide access to their data (for a price), has the potential to become a dominant new growth model for modern Web apps. Whether this is video search engines built on top of YouTube’s content, near real-time language translation using peer production in social communities, or just better product/content recommendation engines remains to be seen.
But the chances are just as likely that entirely new types of break-out products will be created that we can only barely imagine today, like we did with Web 2.0 just a few short years ago. These new applications will fully harness the Web of data powered by insightful and potent cooperative algorithms and novel integration strategies that are deeply connected to the world we live in. Developing these generative algorithms will be the central challenge for a new era of product designer. These product designers will be experts at developing interactive systems for drawing insight, collecting data, and creating value from instantaneous Web input. We can look to examples such as the Netflix Prize as successful models for distributed, open design “studios” for creating, validating, and identifying the winners. How we look at fostering innovation and harvesting it is being reshaped by this vision already.
One thing is for certain, however, the way we look at the network is in the process of taking another big leap.
I’d like to get together a list of Web Squared example applications and ideas. Please leave your suggestions and comments below.