Is Web 3.0 Really a Thing?

A brief overview of web 3.0

Web 3.0 is a simple term with a much more complicated meaning, which is why the simple question of "What is Web 3.0?" may get you dozens of different answers.

Person using laptop and mobile phone.
Busakorn Pongparnit / Getty Images

One of the biggest difficulties in nailing down a definition or metric for evaluating Web 3.0 is the lack of a clear, distinct definition for it, especially compared to what we already know about Web 2.0.

Most people generally have some idea that Web 2.0 is an interactive and social web facilitating collaboration between people. This is distinct from the early, original state of the web (Web 1.0) which was a static information dump where people read websites but rarely interacted with them.

If we distill the essence of change between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, we can derive an answer. Web 3.0 is the next fundamental change both in how websites are created and more importantly, how people interact with them.

When Will Web 3.0 Begin?

Many people believe that the first signs of Web 3.0 are already here. However, it took over ten years to make the transition from the original web to Web 2.0, and it may take just as long (or even longer) for the next fundamental change to make its mark and completely reshape the web.

The phrase "Web 2.0" was coined back in 2003 by Dale Dougherty, Vice President at O'Reilly Media, which became popular in 2004. If the next fundamental change happened in roughly the same time span, we should have officially broken into web 3.0 sometime in 2015. Indeed, we're already seeing it with what people are calling "The Internet of Things" and smart home appliances connected to wireless networks.

So, when we ask ourselves what Web 3.0 might be, we must realize that we will experience a lot of change before it emerges. For example, not only will you have replaced the computer on your desk because it became way too slow, but you will probably have replaced its replacement for the same reason. In fact, the sum of all human knowledge may very well have doubled by the time we're well in Web 3.0.

What Will Web 3.0 Be Like?

Now that we sort of have a vague idea of what Web 3.0 really is, what exactly will it look like when it's here in full force?

The truth is that predicting the Web 3.0 future is a guessing game. A fundamental change in how we use the web could be based on an evolution of how we are using the web now, a breakthrough in web technology, or just a technological breakthrough in general.

Despite the guesswork that's involved, we can certainly nail down some likely scenarios...

Web 3.0 as a Marketing Term

Sadly, this is probably the most likely way that we'll be using the term "Web 3.0" in the future. Web 2.0 has already achieved monumental buzz, and "2.0" has already been attached to Office 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Mobile 2.0, Shopping 2.0, etc.

As the Web 2.0 buzz declines, we will probably be seeing websites popping up hoping to create a new buzz, claiming to be "Web 3.0."

The Artificially Intelligent Web 3.0

Many people ponder the use of advanced artificial intelligence as the next big breakthrough on the web. One of the chief advantages of social media is that it factors in human intelligence.

For example, social bookmarking as a search engine can provide more intelligent results than using Google. You're getting websites that have been voted on by humans, so you have a better chance at hitting something good.

However, because of the human factor, the results can also be manipulated. A group of people could vote for a particular website or article with the intent of making it more popular. So, if artificial intelligence can learn how to separate the good from the bad, it could produce results similar to social bookmarking and social news sites while eliminating some of the bad elements.

Also, an artificially intelligent web might mean virtual assistants. These are already emerging today in the form of third-party apps if not already built-in to the device by default. Some of these AI assistants support natural language, meaning you can say something relatively complex into your phone/computer and it will pick apart the important components of your speech and then follow your commands, like to make a reminder, send an email, or do an internet search.

The Web 3.0 Semantic Web

There is already a lot of work going into the idea of a semantic web, which is a web where all information is categorized and stored in such a way that a computer can understand it as well as a human.

Many view this as a combination of artificial intelligence and the semantic web. The semantic web will teach the computer what the data means, and this will evolve into artificial intelligence that can utilize that information.

The World Wide Virtual Web 3.0

This is a bit more of a far-fetched idea, but some have speculated that the popularity of virtual worlds and massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) like World of Warcraft might lead to a web-based on a virtual world.

Kinset created a virtual shopping mall where users can walk into different stores and see the shelves populated with products. It isn't a stretch to see this expanded into an idea where users can interact with each other and walk into a wide variety of buildings, some of which might not even sell anything.

However, the idea that the entire web would evolve into one single virtual world with buildings, shops, and other areas to explore and people to interact with - while not unbelievable in a technological sense - has more than just technological hurdles to overcome. The virtual web would need to get the major websites on board and to agree to standards that would allow multiple companies to provide clients which, no doubt, would lead to some clients offering features that other clients don't, and, thus, fierce competition.

It would also increase the time it takes to bring a website into the virtual web since the programming and graphic design would be much more complex. This extra expense would probably be too much for smaller companies and websites.

This virtual web presents a few too many obstacles, but it should be kept in mind as a possible Web 4.0.

The Ever-Present Web 3.0

This isn't as much of a prediction of what the Web 3.0 future holds as it is the catalyst that will bring it about. The ever-present Web 3.0 has to do with the increasing popularity of mobile internet devices and the merger of entertainment systems and the web.

The merging of computers and mobile devices as a source for music, movies, and more puts the internet at the center of both our work and our play. Within a decade, internet access on our mobile devices (cell phones, smartphones, pocket PCs) has become as popular as text messaging. This will make the internet always present in our lives - at work, at home, on the road, out to dinner, the internet will be wherever we go.

This may very well evolve into some interesting ways in which the internet will be used in the future.