Thursday, December 29, 2005

On the way to Web 3.0?

We haven't even decided what Web 2.0 means, and some people are already starting to talk about what to expect from Web 3.0. However I'm not sure I agree with Phil Wainewright when he talks about what Web 3.0 means, I agree that the "four pillars" are important: Publishing, Discovery, Fulfilment and Conversation. But isn't he just taking about Web 2.0 concepts? I mean, what's new there? What's the difference between what he's talking about, and Tim O'Reilly's meme map of Web 2.0?

I think there is one difference, Web 2.0 has been driven from the ground up. You only have to look at sites like Flickr to see that Web 2.0 is about nifty technology, interaction and user communities. Or as Paul Graham put it, "AJAX, democracy and users"...

Phil's vision of Web 3.0 is top down, men in suits are trying to decide what we want and impose the frameworks we're going to have to work with online. I think he, and the men in suits, are going to be surprised. The arrival of the Web changed the Internet for good, or perhaps for evil, from an interactive to a "download only" medium.

However as Tim Berners-Lee recently argued in his own blog it was never meant to be that way, and the rise of the blog, along with the prevailance of RSS feeds, mashups and wikis is, at least in my opinion, the reaction by the the people on the ground to what the Web did to the Internet.

So I think his prediction of the death of RSS, or at least the death of a stand alone feed reader, is quite off the wall. He might not be looking at his RSS feeds anymore, and he might not be the only one, but I, along with a lot of other publishers are seeing a growth in feed subscriptions and a corresponding drop in page views.

More people are reading the feed than coming to the web site, and that means big changes are coming. It also means an arms race amongst the feed readers is heading our way, the race between intrusive adverts and the ad-blocking software is going to be run all over again, this time in your feed reader.

Because after all, where else are you going to get the information you now get in your feed reader, we orginally got it via Usenet, then from a variety of websites, and then bundled back in one place again via RSS. How abstracted from the original content can we get? You can only go so far and retain the semantic content of the original information.

While Phil argues that feed readers are dead, he doesn't suggest anything to replace them, he doesn't tell me how I'm supposed to get the information flow I'm used to, and still need, to get on with what I do day to day. Is he arguing that we should just stop reading feeds and return to the sites? If so, is he afraid of falling advertising revenue? Perhaps so, I'd argue that it's going to be easier to win the warn against intrusive advertising in feeds than it has been in the browser, especially if the feed reader is under the user's control, on their desktop. Which, suspiciously to my mind, he's arguing against...

However Phil's other argument that search has become a commodity has, perhaps, some merit, although it isn't news to anyone paying attention. Everyone has already figured out that the continuing stream of new and interesting web applications from Google are simply a way to keep fresh eyeballs in front of their advertising. So does "search as a commodity" challenge the Google model? Maybe, but not if Google can innovate fast enough and keep people interested in their products. The introduction of advertising to Google Earth shouldn't have surprised anyone...

So where am I heading? Beats me, maybe I should steer clear of ZD Net in future if it's going to raise my blood pressure like this...