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Putting users at the helm with Web 3.0

Networked Planet : 06 July, 2009  (Special Report)
Kal Ahmed of Networked Planet provides insight into the next internet generation of user empowered applications in Web 3.0
Over the past 20 years, the Internet has developed from a niche technology to a mass-media that provides new forms of communication and interaction between people. Web 1.0 started out as a technical platform that presented information. Web 2.0 has already revolutionised the way we use the Internet by allowing users to 'join-in', via social networking and user-generated content on sites such as Digg and YouTube.

The next generation of Internet use will be Web 3.0, which is set to change the way content on the web is created, organised, integrated, shared and consumed. Here Kal Ahmed, Founder of NetworkedPlanet, the leading vendor of information management tools and products, explains how Web 3.0 will transform the way businesses and consumers use the Internet and what companies need to do to prepare.

Web 3.0 is the next exciting step in the evolution of the Internet. We have already seen Web 2.0 enable users to create, comment on, rate and share information in a way that was never possible before, through sites such as YouTube and Facebook. The popularity and development of social networking sites means that users now demand more from the Internet - and Web 3.0 is the answer.

Traditionally, the web has been classified by pages - Google's search classification brings up whole web pages that contain the search topic. However Web 3.0 will be based on applications that bring together relevant information from all across the Internet and bind it together for users, so they have their own personal view of the Internet created from semantic structures. Web 3.0 will classify items within web pages as objects, similar to the way that Google already allows specific image and video search. YouTube is another good example of a web interface which classifies items - in this case videos - as objects.

So if somebody searches for 'The Beatles', YouTube or Google video search will bring up any related video content, whereas a traditional Google search would have brought up all web pages related to The Beatles. This Web 3.0 evolution will create new challenges for website publishers, who will have to consider the new ways in which the objects on their sites can be discovered, shared and organised.

Web 3.0 will allow users to take different aspects of sites they like to create new websites which they can use and share with others. So for example if a user liked the purchasing aspect of iTunes, but the browsing interface of Amazon, they could combine those aspects of the sites and create their own page. Users will also be able to integrate other aspects of related sites, such as Ticketmaster or GigsandTours, to create their own fully functional music site.

User-created sites like these are called "mash-ups" and will become a huge part of the Web 3.0 phenomenon.

The first step towards Web 3.0 is for organisations to re-analyse the metadata of each object. Tagging data by topic, theme, type etc, and creating a semantic web, goes a long way to preparing companies' databases for Web 3.0. This new tagging process is an enhancement of traditional web pages' content and services that will provide users with a new layer of tag definitions - called subjects and perceptions.

A subject is anything we can identify as a topic, which can include cultural subjects, such as music or film, social subjects, such as a person or event, business subjects, such as a company or department, and even non-tangible subjects, such as love or friendship. For a subject to be shared across Web 3.0 it requires its own definition and an identifier - which provides a 'hook' for computers to know when two users are discussing the same subject. Anyone can create an identifier and an identity resolution service inbuilt into computers will determine when two different identifiers refer to the same subject. This makes the ability to share information over the web absolutely unlimited.

One layer deeper than classifying data by subject is classifying it by perception. A perception is a fact or snippet of information relating to a subject. These perceptions are semantically encoded in a way that enables the computer to determine which subject the fact is about and relate it to other encoded facts about that subject, with very little input from the user. A perception will still be web content, so it can be searched for, transmitted, cached and transformed through all the standard mechanisms of the current web. What makes perceptions different for Web 3.0 is that their relationship to their subject is made explicit, so that computers can easily find other information related to the same subject.

Through user-generated identifiers, a computer can interpret the content of a perception and determine if and how it should be displayed. The identity resolution service built into all computers is designed to find all perceptions that relate to any given subject. Tagging single objects so they are searchable on their own, regardless of the website they belong to, means users can go onto the Internet and give specific data objects identifiers, so they will appear alongside other related objects, regardless of the website they were originally found on. This will enable the Internet to eventually look and behave in the way users want - which is where Web 3.0 moves on from user-generated content and becomes an arena where users can "redesign" the Internet.

With Web 3.0, websites will look exactly how users want them to, they will be more user-friendly and are likely to generate more traffic. Web 3.0 will make the Internet a remixable resource - it will allow users to actively classify data objects in their own way instead of passively moving from one website to another to find relevant content in a format that appeals to them.

The existing web obviously still contains a massive amount of content and services not classified as subjects or perceptions and it would be naïve to think that all existing knowledge could be expressed in this way immediately. For this reason Web 3.0 subjects and perceptions must be able to reference content and services that exist elsewhere on the web. The mechanisms for doing this are already built into the original Web 1.0 platform - it is possible to see the relationship between a subject and a piece of web content using an identifier to show how they are related.

For example a CD represented as a subject may have one perception that links to its cover art, but multiple perceptions that link to its purchase on shopping sites or price comparison websites. Here, the person or business user is making the transition between a Web 3.0 subject, a CD, and perception, the cover art, and is using Web 3.0 to link back to content and services - in this case Internet shops - belonging to Web 1.0 and 2.0.

In order to be fully prepared for Web 3.0, organisations need to open up their data in an easily consumable way and enable it to be found in a search as an object, a subject or a perception. So for Web 3.0 to work, we need to simplify web interfaces and use terms that the general public can understand, so that they will be able to create their own "mash-ups". A big benefit of using semantics to classify data is that the interfaces can be much simpler. At NetworkedPlanet we have developed Topic Maps Technology which tags all documents and data according to topic and theme identifiers, allowing it to be easily located.

Web 3.0 is not a replacement for the current web, but is another incremental step towards the goal of improving communication, social connection and knowledge across the world. Its arrival will make computers smart enough for people to say how they want data to be found, what it will look/feel like and then "mash-up" the site themselves. For now, what consumers need in order to move into Web 3.0 is a "hub" of semantically tagged objects that they can choose to "mash-up" - and it is this reclassifying of the Internet that will make Web 3.0 a reality.

Web 3.0 is a technical platform for a new generation of web applications - at this point we can only guess what applications could arise from the combination of the Web 3.0 platform and the creative genius of web developers and users around the world.
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