Observations from the MIT/Stanford VLAB Event on Web 3.0

I was able to attend the first half of the MIT/Stanford VLAB’s event on Web 3.0 and it was a good overview, in my opinion. I wasn’t able to stay for the entire thing, but here are a few thoughts and observations I had during my time at the event.

Market-driven innovation as a pre-cursor to top-down APIs. I thought Robert Cook from Freebase had a good comment about how APIs evolve in practice. He cited the way in which the Facebook API, and the functionality it offered, became the model for the OpenSocial and other competitive social networking APIs of late. This argument is something that has always made sense to me – the best way to create a standard or platform is to become the dominant application in the category. Developers and others always want to go where the users are – dominant companies are in a unique position to drive the development of standards, be they platforms or APIs. With the acronym soup of APIs and standards associated with the semantic web, having a market-driven approach might help move the ball forward here.

If you think Web 2.0 is poorly defined, web 3.0 is even tougher. For all of the complaints around how poorly-defined the term “web 2.0” is, the situation for web 3.0 and the semantic web is much tougher. It was clear to me that the folks on stage (and perhaps the industry as a whole) was struggling to come up with a definition for the space that was both expansive enough in terms of vision and easy enough for folks to grasp. Until we have better example applications of semantic web technologies in the wild, I think this will continue to be a challenge.

Does Web 3.0 Need More Marketing or A Few Exits? It wasn’t too long ago that a lot of folks wondered what web 2.0 was. Once you had Flickr and delicious, you can say that “web 2.0 is stuff like Flickr and delicious” and it became easier to define the category by the shared attributes of companies that had achieved some level of success. With YouTube, Photobucket, and others, it became easier and easier to define the category based on the common elements of companies that had been acquired – easy sharing, tagging, slick UI, use of AJAX, etc. The alternative approach would be to have a stronger marketing (product marketing) push among web 3.0 companies to better define the category. Given what I heard from the panelists on stage, my hunch is that the former will be a better path than the latter.

How much of the web 3.0 innovation will be consumer visible? The thing that struck me most before I left the event was the basic notion that this world of machine-to-machine communication that will characterize the web 3.0 world might not be consumer visible. The nice thing about web 2.0 was that many of the innovations were visible. Flickr, Photobucket, and SmugMug were visibly different from Ofoto and Shutterfly in terms of look and feel. Oddpost was a very different email experience than the classic Hotmail and Yahoo interfaces of the day. Having consumer-visible differentiation makes it much easier for consumers to “get” what’s different. A lot of the use cases that folks mentioned for web 3.0 were not consumer-visible applications. It will be interesting to see how web 3.0 develops if most of the semantic web innovation happens in a way that isn’t visible to consumers.

  • Syven

    Isn't the core difference that third generation programming languages were designed so humans can better understand it and that third generation web is designed so machines will better understand it? The importance of HTML is equated to Web 1.0, just as the importance of javascript and XML to Web 2.0 and so if the semantic web is geared to the realization of artificial intelligence, just as programming languages were geared to the realization of human understanding, and this is all simply a natural progression based on what people are trying to achieve. I am firm believer that as the web gets organized by digital professionals, personal digital organization is also an individual responsibility. Most put this responsibility in the hands of social media architects, yet IMHO the real creativity of information is how we personally think about it and personally organize it. The one thing I can't have a machine do for me is organize my own life experience, but I do need machines that free me to think and free me as to how best I live in freedom and personal flow. We therefore do not have to rely on digital professionals to simply organize us, so as to reduce our own self-responsibility to think about the order in our own individual lives. If all AI is replacing human masters with machine masters then it just says that we have not evolved as a human species, we have merely continued the evolution of the body rather than of the mind and beyond and we remain a world full of plaudits and comments, rather than thoughts and how this helps one to live an improved existence with emerging resource. The semantic web must surely remove those conditions that moveable type McLuhan suggested in the The Gutenberg Galaxy. What is the semantic web but outsourcing grammar and other rule-bases to machines, so humans become free to do what humans should be free to do and artificial intelligence will make redundant those whose professions rely on preaching regiment. The new vertical hierarchy is intelligence and the new horizontal scope is imagination (IMHO). Artificial intelligence should not be about identity or our ability to shape our own identity, it is should be a vehicle for escaping image and engaging freedom to the raise our ability to live intelligently. In that regard all the work being done right now regarding life extension, should not really serve in my mind the narcissistic need to discover immortality but the retention of the talent required to further develop the man-machine interface to yield new relationships with a world we are still learning to connect to, a cerebral connection to new frontiers that are discovering at the nano level, in space discovery and neuroscience . The Book of Genesis contained accounts of people who lived extended lives, pity they didn't have the semantic web back then or any of the challenges that humans have means to now explore. (just thinking out aloud). M. PS also a message to Tan, hope this <a href="http://web20.goingon.com/permalink/post/21188&quo…helps to pick my brain</a> 🙂