Web 3.0 explained

6th May 2007 | 23:00

Web 3.0 explained

Smarter searches, 3D websites and artificial intelligence

If you're still trying to get your head around Web 2.0, then you should see what Web 3.0 can do. Soon you'll be able to carry out natural language searches (semantics), search by image, or even take a virtual walk inside a 3D version of the web. First though we need to establish where we are right now.

Much of the future development of Web 3.0 has its roots in Web 2.0 - a still developing version of the web that places the focus of site activity on collaboration and community, rather than on a one-way street of information. You know the kind of site you just read, rather than take an active part in.

Popular examples of Web 2.0 sites include online encyclopaedia Wikipedia , photo sharing website Flickr , and video sharing website YouTube . Web 2.0 also includes blogs, tags and RSS feeds.

"Some services, such as YouTube and MySpace , will be adopted by the mainstream public, whereas others will exist for a more niche market," said Conrad Bennett, technical services director at web analyst firm WebTrends .

"For example, internet telephony services was unheard of only a few years ago but now services like Skype is used by millions of users every day," Bennett said.

So that's Web 2.0 out of the way. What about Web 3.0?

The semantic web

Another name for Web 3.0 is the semantic web, a term coined by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web. The semantic web will be able to read web pages in the same way as we read them, i.e. be able to analyse content within them, not just scan for keywords.

Much of the Web 3.0 notion is just ideas but some companies are already moving towards it. HP and Yahoo have both adopted official semantic web standards, while Google and Microsoft are moving towards 3D.

One of the main areas where the semantic web will be applied is of course online searches. A semantic search would 'connect the dots' between information on the web. Web pages would not look different or be easier to read - it's the software agents that are being made smarter.

Paris Hilton, or Hilton Paris?

For example, today's search engines are unable to tell the difference between the 'Hilton in Paris', and 'Paris Hilton'. Semantic search engines would be. Similarly, if you want to know who founded Microsoft, you would type in "Who founded Microsoft?" rather than having to think about putting the right keywords in.

The semantic web would also be able to 'think outside the box'. If your doctor had advised you that you had a certain condition, for example, a semantic web search on that term would bring up results on recommended treatments, lists of providers, whether your insurance would cover this condition, and ratings and contact details for hospitals and specialists in your area.

Furthermore, it would check appointment times against your personal calendar, and reschedule them if necessary. This without any input from you, the user.

Beyond words

Web 3.0 is also likely to go beyond words. In the future, we will be using images to search for images, sound clips to look for other sound clips, and so on. Supply a photo of your favourite painting or song and the search engines would suggest hundreds of similar paintings or songs. Music-matching service Pandora.com is already providing this type of media search.

Searching for images or music would be done slightly differently in Web 3.0. Currently, typing "Tony Blair" into Google Image Search doesn't actually search for images of the outgoing PM but simply links, file names and captions including the keywords. Countless photos of irrelevant photos are usually brought up on the results page, and it also misses out images that have been incorrectly tagged or labelled.

Web 3.0 would bring up photos that look like Tony Blair, or songs that are by, or sound like, Elvis or whatever it was you were searching for.

Our buying behaviour is also likely to keep evolving thanks to the internet. "We already visit price comparison websites to get the best price for a product, and read up on consumer and press reviews before we make a decision," Conrad Bennett said. In the future we may be able to see what the product would look like in our home, or what we'd look like wearing it, before we buy.

3D web

Some people also foresee a so-called 3D web, which you would be able to walk through. The 3D web is essentially an extension of the popular 'virtual worlds' like Second Life that are around today.

In the future, the whole web could be a big alternate world, or recreation of our existing world. On the 3D web you would talk a walk through the area where you are thinking of buying a house, or visiting famous landmark sites you've never seen. Google Earth already offers this to a certain extent. You can zoom in on Sydney and see its buildings and streets. The next step is to put you, or an avatar, in Sydney and let you walk around.

"It is all about making it easier for people," said Conrad Bennett. "The same trend can be seen with software applications moving online. People don't want to have to install and upgrade applications; they want to be able to access their files instantly and from anywhere."

Reaching out

The web used to be tied to our desktops. Now it is reaching our mobile phones and TVs too but it may extend even further. The MIT university in the US is currently researching the idea of internet-connected bathroom mirrors. They would display the latest news headlines while you're brushing your teeth in the morning.

Windows that automatically open or close according to online weather forecasts another idea. Or internet-enabled clothes and jewellery. Using mesh networks dotted around a home or city, the possibilities are endless.

"We are already seeing how people are changing their ways when they move from a slow to a faster internet connection," said Kevin Baughn, head of technical strategy at Virgin Media . "We are currently doing trials of a 50Mbps broadband service in Kent and the users are saying that they have started sharing video like never before, streaming TV, music and video, among other things."

Tighter connections

Seth Godin, an author on technology-related ideas, has foreseen Web 3.0 as a place where you have even tighter online connections to your friends, family, and colleagues. "There are so many things the web can do for me if it knows who my friends are, where they are, what they're doing, what they're interested in, how they can help me - and vice versa."

In his book ' Unleashing the Ideavirus ' Godin writes about Web 3.0: "If you start typing an e-mail proposing a particular business deal with Apple , a window pops up, telling you that one of your colleagues is already in talks with Apple. If you miss an airplane flight and book a new one with your mobile phone; it automatically sends messages to the friends you're meeting for dinner, letting them know you'll be late."

Web 3.0 is unlikely to change our behaviour anytime soon, however. "The media is always looking for new things to write about, and portray new trends as if they would happen overnight," said Conrad Bennett. "Even if new technologies are introduced, it takes a while for people to adopt them".

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