What Tim O'Reilly didn't mean to wreak
By Daedalus Howell
No sooner had popular culture digested the term "Web 2.0" than the ante was upped by the next generation of the worldwide web. Behold, "Web 3.0."
Um, yeah. This unfortunate protologism, doomed to eternal comparison to its pithy predecessor, proves the adage that "Good technologists borrow, great technologists steal and then add 1."
Also known as the "semantic web," Web 3.0 presently has several working definitions, the most salient of which seems to be web godfather Sir Tim Berners-Lee's suggestion that a semantic web will enable "the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives" and "machines talking to machines"—meaning data presented on the web and necessarily meant to be interpreted by humans, but inscrutable to machines, will soon become scrutable.
Though the notion of machines talking to each other about one's web queries, sundry database entries and general arcana of our digital lives might lead to a more expeditious online experience, it may also foment a paranoia of the sort described in a Philip K. Dick novel. Especially if the machines are chatty and gossip-prone.
Interestingly, the semantic web's etymological ancestor, Web 2.0, was coined by Sonoma County's own Tim O'Reilly, the open-source maven, publisher and founder of O'Reilly Media based in Sebastopol. O'Reilly chose the term to describe the emergence of post-crash, web-based businesses and the commonalities they share (social, collaborative, no Fusbol game in the foyer) as the raison d'être for a conference.
"Could it be that the dot-com collapse marked some kind of turning point for the web, such that a call to action such as 'Web 2.0' might make sense?" wrote O'Reilly in a 2005 post entitled "What Is Web 2.0" archived on OReilly.com. "We agreed that it did, and so the Web 2.0 Conference was born." So, too, was born an infectious meme that has seen the "2.0" appliqué on everything from healthcare reform to sex. (Incidentally, the Sex 2.0 conference, which explores the "intersection of social media, feminism and sexuality" returns to Seattle this May.)
In the half-decade since O'Reilly's coinage, culture has undergone something of a digital renaissance (think Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter), and his Web 2.0 Conference is now the annual Web 2.0 Summit. So how is it then that New York-based Mediabistro, a trade group that bills itself as "the premier content, career and community resource for media professionals" came to host the so-called Web 3.0 Conference last week?
Clearly, something has gotten out of sequence. That is, unless Web 3.0 involves time travel and paid us a visit here in the present to show us the future with a stack of PowerPoint slides. Gimmicky, sure, but revealing nevertheless—about half of the seminars and presentations were presented by marketers about leveraging the semantic web, which some hope will emulate a kind of artificial intelligence, to target consumers. "KaChing 3.0" might have been a more apt title for the conference. (Better lock that in—the KaChing Button, an iPhone app that makes a cash register sound for the currency of your choice, is already up to version 1.0.3.)
Given the Sonoma County provenance of Web 2.0, it was somehow apropos that its unrelated pseudo-sequel was held at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, where the conference rooms are dubbed "Sonoma," "Napa" and "Mendocino." Adorning the walls are tilt-shift prints, photo-collages and other digitally produced, eye-candy designed to evoke a Silicon Valley aesthetic, despite its wine country pretensions. And whither Wine 2.0? That conference happened in New York last November.
In the coming years, perhaps we will experience Web 4.0, which will find its comeuppance when Webs 2.0 and 3.0 join forces and become Web 5.0. Web 4.0 will respond by rehabbing Web 1.0 out of its post-bust stupor (so-named the way the Great War became World War I) and attempt to beat Web 5.0 at its own game. An accord will ensue and all parties will reform together as simply the Web—at which point it will become sentient and enslave us all. You know, if it hasn't already.
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