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November 13, 2006

Web 3.0 and the Common Sense of the Internet?

I just wanted to point your way to a piece this weekend from John Markoff in the New York Times on Web 3.0.

For those not familiar with what some are claiming will be the next great wave of innovation in Internet tools, the idea is creating a system that uses some degree of intelligent information to address specific concerns and questions of users. The example used in this article is a complicated question about planning a vacation that is not answered simply with pages that have keywords of interest but that legitimately addresses the question asked by the user.

In other words, it would be a Jeeves that didn't seem hard of hearing. I can recall many a day when I visited poor old Jeeves, who was sure that I could ask him anything I wanted, only to wonder how in the world he gave me some of the responses he did, considering the question I had asked.

Well, this would make for a Jeeves that actually listens. Markoff writes, "Their goal is to add a layer of meaning on top of the existing Web that would make it less of a catalog and more of a guide -- and even provide the foundation for systems that can reason in a human fashion. That level of artificial intelligence, with machines doing the thinking instead of simply following commands, has eluded researchers for more than half a century."

The idea is that a smarter system of links and aggregation could sift through content in a way that could provide financial planning, educational consulting, trip planning...responses that would provide accurate options in the way a real human agent would. This is what people are quoted as calling "the semantic Web."

The idea of computers directly answering questions is a simple desire that leads to a complicated research plan, and it will likely be some time before such search engines become truly possible and may not ever be fully satisfied. But the direction of providing direct and useable search engines that give users more tools to find exactly what it is that they want show the consumer-driven direction of most Web development and how Web 3.0 hopes to build off the great momentum and usability of Web 2.0.

Is this the answer? Discovering what Web 3.0 will be is driving a lot of speculation. Stephen Baker with BusinessWeek predicts that Web 3.0 will be easier and cheaper, always connected, and will provide greater control over data. Last year, Phil Wainewright said that Web 3.0 will consist of a foundation layer of API services, a middle layer of aggregation services, a top layer of application services, all on behalf of serviced clients, in an eara where we "will see buisness computing converge on teh same fundamental on-demand architecture as consumer applications." Finally, Dan Gillmor last year said that he feels it's already here. "The emerging web is one in which the machines talk as much to each other as humans talk to machines or other humans. As the net is the rough equivalent of a computer operating system, we're learning how to program the web itself."

So, what is Web 3.0? The question is where we want research to be headed on developing a continually improved Web, and this sustained public argument is an important one that anyone and everyone should join in on. We'll never get the right answers unless we're asking the most useful questions...

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