Technical blog and writings by Micah Webner.

Where do we go from here? (A look at Web n.0)

There's a lot of talk about version numbers and the web these days. It seems that people are getting tired of talking about Web 2.0, and want to move on to new versions. I've started wondering if the whole bit about numbering web versions is keeping us from seeing how short-sighted our vision actually is.

This post has been simmering in my brain for a long time, and Bob Christenson's Mustardseed Media post, Moving Beyond the Web, has kind of spurred me into finishing it. I'm not writing this to disagree with Bob's point of view. I think his predictions about emerging technology are pretty accurate. I'm just borrowing some of his momentum.

I saw an interesting blog post back in April from ReadWriteWeb's coverage of the Web 2.0 Expo that said:

I am forced to one conclusion: Tim O'Reilly, the man credited with popularizing the term Web 2.0, doesn't actually believe it exists. For O'Reilly, there is just the web right now. 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 -- it's all the same ever-changing web.

In effect, is that the web always has been and will always be about presenting information.

In other words, the versioning of the web is silly. Web 1.0, 2.0, or 3.0 is all really just whatever cool new thing we're using the web to accomplish right now.

The author does concede that these version labels do sometimes help to discuss and explain context, so they're not completely unhelpful terms. If so, then let's say for a minute that the Web 1.0 boom was about the size of the web, but the Web 2.0 boom is about its capabilities. If that's the case, then I don't think we've even scratched the surface of Web 2.0.

The BBC recently quoted web-inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee as saying the web is "still in its infancy", and that the future web will put "all the data in the world" at the fingertips of every user. I must admit, that sounds like Web 3.0 to me. But is it really, or are we finally starting to fulfill the original idea?

In 1960, Ted Nelson got the idea for hypertext. Out of this vision grew Project Xanadu and a whole series of concepts that extend far beyond today's web. This includes a solution for the copyright issue, which I think can be oversimplified by saying that content would always be served from its original location, and would never have to be duplicated or re-broadcast. (That would have avoided the whole YouTube/Viacom debacle, wouldn't it.)

Sadly, Xanadu was an opium-induced dream that, once lost, could never be recaptured. Project Xanadu's relative obscurity may have more to do with the shortcomings of people than technology. Just look at the failure of both web creators and browser manufacturers to adhere to existing standards, and then consider the level of standards that something like Xanadu would require.

Various elements of the original 17 rules of Project Xanadu are beginning to emerge. For example, projects like OpenID and oAuth strive to fill the rule that "every user is uniquely and securely identified." We're also able to do a limited amount of data sharing through things like embedding YouTube videos and Flickr photos into blogs.

The part I find most interesting is the way we're moving towards Xanadu's global data sharing mechanism by way of the semantic web. The practicality of the semantic web has come into question, but there are people working to make it a reality.

I'm excited that the Drupal community is part of that movement. At DrupalCon Boston earlier this year, Dries Buytaert announced the RDF initiative for Drupal 7. He defined Web 3.0 in terms of interoperability, where RDF can turn the entire web into a database. If, aside from things mentioned above, Web 2.0 is/was about bringing people together into communities, then Web 3.0 may very well be about connecting everything.

I've gotten geeked up when I've pulled data from two different database systems together to generate a web page. Imagine being able to generate a page from a variety of other web data sources world-wide, because the information is tied together by design. Contrast that with things we have to do today, like web scraping, and the world is going to be a much more flexible place to work. I can't even imagine the things we'd be able to do.

So call the versions what you will. But buckle up, it's going to be an exciting ride.

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