Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"Web 3.0" and "Killer App" sound like "Crystal Ball" to me

Ahh, web 3.0.

Indeed, as nanobeeper's asks and puts into perspective, What's up with the web 2.0 angst?, there doesn't seem to be a need to get bent all out of shape over the term. And yet, I usually don't use the term myself and am pretty reluctant to, for fear of being someone-who-doesn't-know-what-they're-talking-about, like the braying butthole in Jeffery Zeldman's famous post. It's what happens when marketers get out of control, and generally, it applies when someone that knows just enough to be dangerous. Fanboys of Japan is a good example. If you meet someone that LOVES Japan, they've either only watched anime (or been to Japan once or twice), or they've lived there for at least a decade. Usually the former.

But what I want to post here today isn't want I think is or isn't web 3.0, but more about the usage of the term. Why do people use it?

Killer app 3.0

It's an interesting parallel that ever since Visicalc came out and the term "killer app" was termed, people since then has been talking about the "killer app" on this platform or that. "The killer app of the web is..." "The killer app of the mobile phones is..." It's certainly reminds me of the way people talked about web 2.0. "Web 2.0 is...." "Web 3.0 is..."

The similarity between talking about web 3.0 and talking about killer apps is that when people talk about them, they're using those terms to try to communicate what they see, predict, or would like to be the future. Technologists are, if anything, always looking for the Next Big Thing. We're use to change, and in fact, we thrive on it. We're all interested in the future of change because if we're right about it, that kind of information is an advantage over whatever our goals are. But as we all know, predicting the future is well, inaccurate at best.

I'd trade intelligence for hindsight

Often times, we have limited scope, experience, and knowledge. That certainly will affect what we think to be in the realm of the possible and what will be in the realm of the impossible. If you look back on quotes about technology predictions, some of them might stun you at how stupid they are. But then again, you have the gift of hindsight. Keep in mind what technology was available at the time for them to relate to the new tech, as well as the fact that first iterations of any product sucks--as Guy Kawasaki so famously points out. (If you want to read more, they're from wikipedia)
"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." -- Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, president of the British Royal Society, 1895
"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? The music — that's the big plus about this." Warner Bros. was investing in sound technology though Henry Warner was more excited about the potential of scoring over dialogue. [3]
"Caterpillar landships are idiotic and useless. Those officers and men are wasting their time and are not pulling their proper weight in the war." -- Fourth Lord of the British Admiralty, 1915
"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?" -- Associates of David Sarnoff responding to the latter's call for investment in the radio in 1921.
"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming." -- Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube, 1926
The last two quotes are notable. Lee DeForest, who had enough foresight and innovation to see that a radio had value, couldn't see beyond that to see how a television would have value just five years later. We all have limited breadth and imagination, but some people are worse than others. It would do you well to ignore those people. Sometimes you can recognize them if they counter with "Why would I ever do [insert whatever idea you just told them]"

And even if we had perfect scope, perfect breadth, it would still be hard. Predicting the future is computationally intensive.

As for myself, I didn't immediately see the value of social networks apps until Facebook showed up, even though I read research papers on social networks. And currently, I don't really get Twitter and Scribd, but the fact that people are using it, well, there's value somewhere in there.

So what's the chorus in all the noise?

So where does that leave us with Web 3.0? If you look at it as people merely trying to say what their predictions about the future of the web, it doesn't conjure up as much anger, because you know they may very well be wrong. But collectively, what everyone predicts to be web 3.0 will have some value because part of it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we all say it's true, you can be sure that some of us will work to make it true.

Based on that flash in the pan, I was curious. What was the collective consensus on what web 3.0 is? I looked in two places. Wikipedia and del.icio.us. Just from eyeballing it, it seems to be that people are in consensus, at least about the semantic web. This would be the type of thing that Inkling Markets would be good for. I created a market for it, if you're so inclined to buy stock on web 3.0.

So take what any individual says to be the future with open mind and a grain of salt, but really pay attention to where the global trend is moving. As Joe Kraus says, you want to see what the trend is, take it out of geek land, and ride that wave.

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