The psychological experience of using the Internet is undergoing slow but constant change. Up until now, using the Web has involved “going out” to Web sites. However, this is changing. Understanding this transformation, and plotting its direction, can provide us with a new understanding of where our Web technology is going. This destination can be called "Web 3.0."
Underneath the Hood
Very little of the core protocols that define how the Internet works have changed over the last twenty years. What has changed, and very slowly, are some basic hardware upgrades and the software interfaces we use to transfer information. These gradual, almost superficial changes, have done little to change what the Internet actually does from a technological perspective, but have greatly altered our perception of the “Internet experience”.
Computers and Telephone Lines
The Internet is computers and telephone lines. On the computers, there are some programs and data files. That’s it, really. There are no big servers somewhere that hold “the Internet”.
Some people may be surprised to find out that there is nothing actually “in between” these computers other than wires (telephone lines). This misconception occurs because of that picture of the Internet that looks like a big cloud with two computers connecting into it from either side.
The Internet is your computer together with many other computers; none of these computers are “in the center”, although some send and receive more traffic than others. Your computer has disks, and the other computers have disks. Your computer is running programs, and the other computers are running programs. There is no “Internet” that somehow exists between here and there. Everything is either on your disk or on someone else’s disk.
Out There … is Right Here
When you see something on your computer, you always see what is on your own disk, either because it was already there, or because you copied it there. You never see anything on someone else’s computer.
When you view the homepage of CNN.com, you contact CNN.com for a copy of their homepage. CNN.com’s server sends you a copy to your computer, and your Web browser displays the copy that is on your computer onto your monitor. Note that this is different from the way television works. If a television or radio broadcast stops, so does your ability to see or hear it. If a Web site stops, your browser does not suddenly shut off the picture.
When you read an email, you copy a file from your ISP’s computer to your computer, and your email client displays the copy that is on your computer onto your monitor.
Does reading email sound the same as viewing a Web page? It should. Because viewing an email message and viewing a Web page are essentially identical underneath the hood.
Internet Messaging? FTP? P2P? They are all exactly the same. Your computer downloads data from somewhere and then displays the local copy of what it downloaded onto your screen. The same basic idea has been happening since the Internet started and is still happening today.
Why do they all of these applications seem so different?
It is the perception of each of these services that gives them their psychological form.
People think of email messages as little packets of mail sent around by tireless mail carriers on the Internet. People think of Web sites as places “to go to” and browsing the Web as some virtual travel activity. In both cases, nothing different is really happening; a packet of data that someone created is downloaded and displayed on your screen.
The Web began as a series of static pages with links between them, and evolved to include on the fly pages created entirely from pieces of data and databases, personalized information, user cookies, and so on.
Defining Web 1.0
The defining aspects of the Web 1.0 social experience are as follows:
- One, that you “go” to some place on the Web. You go to CNN, you go to a game site. Your computer simply acts like a portal, a window to some other location.
- Two, that each page is discrete. The page may present different information each time you view it, but to get from one place to another, you have to leave one page and then arrive at the next page, or at least open the new page in a new window.
- Three, that sites are like buildings, where pages are like rooms. You may log into a site, and the information you provide will be available throughout the site. If you go to some other site, it is a different entity.
- Four, that creating information on the Web is in the hands of the experts: the programmers, the designers, people with good tech skills, and so on. Hosting is expensive, throughput is expensive, good statistics are expensive, and good design is expensive. Yeah, mom and pop stores can do well with a cheaper slick site, but they are not going to get wealthy.
- Finally, that being on the Web means building a site, the entire kit and kaboodle. At the very least, you need a page on some community site, such as the Well.
Web 2.0 brought new psychological aspects to the Web. While we usually still go “out there”, we are no longer idle consumers of information. We are also the information producers, albeit in other people’s buildings.
Web sites are no longer pages but applications. When you play around with a page, it does not necessarily reload to another page, but incorporates your entered information, like any application sitting on your computer does.
We no longer care about “pages” on a site, but about pieces of information on the site. All parts of a Web page can now be exported and broken up into fragments (XML).
Web 2.0 brought us many different sites to post what we wanted: blogs to post text, picture sites like Flickr to post pictures, video sites like YouTube to post videos, and community sites like MySpace to post personal information and relationship links.
Even more important, tags became a brute force but growingly effective way to categorize pieces of information - a lot more work, but a little more effective than relying on search terms.
Defining Web 2.0
The defining aspects of the Web 2.0 social experience are as follows:
- One, that you still need to “go” to some place on the Web. However, this is starting to change. RSS readers allow us to view some parts of the Web on our own computer.
- Two, that some pages are discrete, and some aren’t. A blog is divided into postings, each of which can be viewed as a separate page. People’s collected information can be viewed individually, or as a set. Sets can cross and intersect using tags.
- Three, that sites are still like buildings, but some sites are beginning to cross over. My Yahoo, for instance, looks like a number of windows into different sites, all in one place.
- Four, that creating information on the Web is available to everyone. The Web 2.0 sites are like crayon boxes, giving anyone the opportunity to express himself or herself. However, you still have to go to the sites and log in in order to do so.
- Finally, that being on the Web means whatever you want it to mean. It can be as little as an uploaded picture, or as much as a blog, all of your publications, or your entire video library.
If you plot a line from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and extend it, you end up to where it looks like we may be going with this technology. Namely, we are headed to where the Internet disappears altogether. There may no longer be an “out there”. As Scott McNealy, chairman of Sun Microsystems put it so many years ago, “the network is the computer”.
24 Hour Broadband
Many people now have 24 hour broadband access, and this will be universal soon enough. We have cheap disk storage, which can hold all of our videos and music, and so on, without having to pay other people to hold it for us. Our computers come with built-in server support.
One of the major reasons we go “out there” to begin with is that we don’t all have our own servers on the Web full time. That is changing. Why should I have to put my stuff on someone else’s site, when my own computer is going to be on, 24 hours a day?
Instead, what we write on our own computer may be instantly published. Microsoft is adding more and more Web features into its software so that the documents you write become Web pages. Meanwhile, Google is adding more and more office utilities to its site, so that the documents you write start out as published to begin with. These two approaches are essentially converging.
Some document tags can be added automatically as our investment in tagging technology broadens. This type of tagging covers topic-oriented tagging. Documents will also be tagged with our name and personal ID. If we add a friend’s name as a tag, it will be sent as email. That is what we already do when we send email, but we don’t yet think of it in that way.
Email is an irrelevant application if you can tag data by a personal ID. The other person simply receives it as a feed. Sharing is an irrelevant application if you can tag data by topic; again, anyone searching for or subscribed to that tag receives it as a feed.
If we tag a document as personal, it will stay inaccessible to the outside world. If we tag it as public, we make it accessible to the world via smart search. Behind the scenes, publicly tagged items may be uploaded to central servers, or indexed by some P2P technology, but we don’t really need to know that.
Platforms and data formats are increasingly irrelevant as data gets stored in XML format, and you can convert freely between formats.
Web hosting, Web servers, and URL addresses also become irrelevant, if you only work with your own computer.
We currently use one search to find things on a Web site, another on our computer, and another on the Internet. This is unnecessary once the psychological boundaries between these three are erased. Smart search could find all items tagged as public, anywhere. If you want to find only your own stuff, search for your own tags.
With ubiquitous computing and always-on networking, more people are accessing their email and documents in more than a single location. Portable computers are still cumbersome.
If all you need are your documents and a set of tools with which to access them, you can achieve this by having your documents stored on-line, carried with you in a memory stick, or a combination of both, depending on your privacy needs.
With a properly defined set of tools, plugging in a portable memory stick and entering a password should be all that you need to work on any networked computer, regardless of the operating system or programs installed.
The Out-There Experience
Although the out-there experience will no longer be necessary for many tasks, people still like the idea of “going” somewhere on the Internet, because, in a sense, it gets them out of their house. Therefore, I expect that there will continue to be “out-there” experiences on the Internet.
Shopping is likely to continue to be this way, even though the information you need from a shopping site can be received as a feed. Multiplayer games will also continue to give this type of experience. On the other hand, forums and community spaces will no longer be necessary, nor continue to feel like “out-there”. These essentially reduce to a type of feed, similar to email. You will feel like these spaces extend directly to your computer.
Defining Web 3.0
The defining aspects of the Web 3.0 social experience may therefore be as follows:
- One, that you won’t need to “go” anywhere, except maybe to set up some initial parameters. Where your computer is, is where you are. Information comes to you based on tags and search criteria; you don’t have to go out there.
- Two, that there are no pages. Information comes in packets of discrete units. You merge or cross them, as you need to.
- Three, that there are no Web sites. Existing Web sites are no longer meant for human eyes. They act as indexes to the information, which is accessible via XML request. Exceptions to this will not be Web sites, but independent little islands of commerce or games.
- Four, that creating information is like writing an email or writing a document. Accessible to anyone with a computer.
- Finally, that being on the Web means not being on the Web at all. It is like being “on the telephone”, i.e. you have a telephone in your house.
The Web 3.0 Interface
The classic Web 3.0 interface requires four essential application types:
- An application to configure your feeds using live examples. Saved searches should give you back previous results first. Results are otherwise ordered by your interests. You can junk or pin sources for relevancy. This application replaces existing search tools.
- An application to view your feeds or search results, including anything tagged for your ID (i.e. email). There are buttons to let you filter and so on. This application replaces all current viewing applications, such as email, Web browser, and so on.
- One or more applications to write, edit pictures or documents, create spreadsheets, and so on. Buttons that let you: publish, tag, save, and so on. Some tags and permission are assigned automatically or by default. These applications are like today’s word processing (including email), image processing, and other creative applications. What matters here is that they all output tagged documents with settings to control publishing levels (public, private, tags, etc.).
- Any other secondary applications for viewing specialized data, such as a picture viewer, a music tuner, a game display, a video player, and so on.
Everything that happens in one application should make sense in another application if you drag and drop. Moreover, you should be able to export from any of these applications to any format you desire, if necessary.
What we are really waiting for is the elimination of the sense of using a computer, altogether. When our appliances are instant on and instant off, portable and durable, and come with big buttons for major functions, then we are on the way into the next era.