Written by Richard MacManus
We’re well into the current era of the Web, commonly referred to as Web 2.0. Features of this phase of the Web include search, social networks, online media (music, video, etc), content aggregation and syndication (RSS), mashups (APIs), and much more. Currently the Web is still mostly accessed via a PC, but we’re starting to see more Web excitement from mobile devices (e.g. iPhone) and television sets (e.g. XBox Live 360).
What then can we expect from the next 10 or so years on the Web? As NatC commented in this week’s poll, the biggest impact of the Web in 10 years time won’t necessarily be via a computer screen – “your online activity will be mixed with your presence, travels, objects you buy or act with.” Also a lot of crossover will occur among the 10 trends below (and more) and there will be Web technologies that become enormously popular that we can’t predict now.
Bearing all that in mind, here are 10 Web trends to look out for over the next 10 years…
1. Semantic Web
Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision for a Semantic Web has been The Next Big Thing for a long time now. Indeed it’s become almost mythical, like Moby Dick. In a nutshell, the Semantic Web is about machines talking to machines. It’s about making the Web more ‘intelligent’, or as Berners-Lee himself described it: computers “analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers.” At other times, Berners-Lee has described it as “the application of weblike design to data” – for example designing for re-use of information.
As Alex Iskold wrote in The Road to the Semantic Web, the core idea of the Semantic Web is to create the meta data describing data, which will enable computers to process the meaning of things. Once computers are equipped with semantics, they will be capable of solving complex semantical optimization problems.
So when will the Semantic Web arrive? The building blocks are here already: RDF, OWL, microformats are a few of them. But as Alex noted in his post, it will take some time to annotate the world’s information and then to capture personal information in the right way. Some companies, such as Hakia and Powerset and Alex’s own AdaptiveBlue, are actively trying to implement the Semantic Web. So we are getting close, but we are probably a few years off still before the big promise of the Semantic Web is fulfilled.
Semantic Web pic by dullhunk
2. Artificial Intelligence
Possibly the ultimate Next Big Thing in the history of computing, AI has been the dream of computer scientists since 1950 – when Alan Turing introduced the Turing test to test a machine’s capability to participate in human-like conversation. In the context of the Web, AI means making intelligent machines. In that sense, it has some things in common with the Semantic Web vision.
We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of AI on the Web. Amazon.com has attempted to introduce aspects of AI with Mechanical Turk, their task management service. It enables computer programs to co-ordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks which computers are unable to do. Since its launch on 2 November 2005, Mechanical Turk has gradually built up a following – there is a forum for “Turkers” called Turker Nation, which appears to have light-to-medium level patronage. However we reported in January that Mturk isn’t being used as much as the initial hype period in Nov-Dec 05.
Nevertheless, AI has a lot of promise on the Web. AI techniques are being used in “search 2.0” companies like Hakia and Powerset. Numenta is an exciting new company by tech legend Jeff Hawkins, which is attempting to build a new, brain-like computing paradigm – with neural networks and cellular automata. In english this means that Numenta is trying to enable computers to tackle problems that come easy to us humans, like recognizing faces or seeing patterns in music. But since computers are much faster than humans when it comes to computation, we hope that new frontiers will be broken – enabling us to solve the problems that were unreachable before.
3. Virtual Worlds
Second Life gets a lot of mainstream media attention as a future Web system. But at a recent Supernova panel that Sean Ammirati attended, the discussion touched on many other virtual world opportunities. The following graphic summarizes it well:
Looking at Korea as an example, as the ‘young generation’ grows up and infrastructure is built out, virtual worlds will become a vibrant market all over the world over the next 10 years.
It’s not just about digital life, but also making our real life more digital. As Alex Iskold explained, on one hand we have the rapid rise of Second Life and other virtual worlds. On the other we are beginning to annotate our planet with digital information, via technologies like Google Earth.
Mobile Web is another Next Big Thing on slow boil. It’s already big in parts of Asia and Europe, and it received a kick in the US market this year with the release of Apple’s iPhone. This is just the beginning. In 10 years time there will be many more location-aware services available via mobile devices; such as getting personalized shopping offers as you walk through your local mall, or getting map directions while driving your car, or hooking up with your friends on a Friday night. Look for the big Internet companies like Yahoo and Google to become key mobile portals, alongside the mobile operators.
Companies like Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, Palm, Blackberry and Microsoft have been active in the Mobile Web for years now, but one of the main issues with Mobile Web has always been usability. The iPhone has a revolutionary UI that makes it easier for users to browse the Web, using zooming, pinching and other methods. Also, as Alex Iskold noted, the iPhone is a strategy that may expand Apple’s sphere of influence, from web browsing to social networking and even possibly search.
So even despite the iPhone hype, in the US at least (and probably other countries when it arrives) the iPhone will probably be seen in 10 years time as the breakthrough Mobile Web device.
5. Attention Economy
The Attention Economy is a marketplace where consumers agree to receive services in exchange for their attention. Examples include personalized news, personalized search, alerts and recommendations to buy. The Attention Economy is about the consumer having choice – they get to choose where their attention is ‘spent’. Another key ingredient in the attention game is relevancy. As long as the consumer sees relevant content, he/she is going to stick around – and that creates more opportunities to sell.
Expect to see this concept become more important to the Web’s economy over the next decade. We’re already seeing it with the likes of Amazon and Netflix, but there is a lot more opportunity yet to explore from startups.
Image from The Attention Economy: An Overview, by Alex Iskold
6. Web Sites as Web Services
Alex Iskold wrote in March that as more and more of the Web is becoming remixable, the entire system is turning into both a platform and the database. Major web sites are going to be transformed into web services – and will effectively expose their information to the world. Such transformations are never smooth – e.g. scalability is a big issue and legal aspects are never simple. But, said Alex, it is not a question of if web sites become web services, but when and how.
The transformation will happen in one of two ways. Some web sites will follow the example of Amazon, del.icio.us and Flickr and will offer their information via a REST API. Others will try to keep their information proprietary, but it will be opened via mashups created using services like Dapper, Teqlo and Yahoo! Pipes. The net effect will be that unstructured information will give way to structured information – paving the road to more intelligent computing.
Note that we can also see this trend play out currently with widgets and especially Facebook in 2007. Perhaps in 10 years time the web services landscape will be much more open, because the ‘walled garden’ problem is still with us in 2007.
Image from Web 3.0: When Web Sites Become Web Services, by Alex Iskold
7. Online Video / Internet TV
This is a trend that has already exploded on the Web – but you still get the sense there’s a lot more to come yet. In October 2006 Google acquired the hottest online video property on the planet, YouTube. Later on that same month, news came out that the founders of Kazaa and Skype were building an Internet TV service, nicknamed The Venice Project (later named Joost). In 2007, YouTube continues to dominate. Meanwhile Internet TV services are slowly getting off the ground.
Our network blog last100 has an excellent overview of the current Internet TV landscape, with reviews of 8 Internet TV apps. Read/WriteWeb’s Josh Catone also reviewed 3 of them – Joost, Babelgum, Zattoo.
It’s fair to say that in 10 years time, Internet TV will be totally different to what it is today. Higher quality pictures, more powerful streaming, personalization, sharing, and much more – it’s all coming over the next decade. Perhaps the big question is: how will the current mainstream TV networks (NBC, CNN, etc) adapt?
Zattoo, from Internet Killed The Television Star: Reviews of Joost, Babelgum, Zattoo, and More, by Josh Catone
8. Rich Internet Apps
As the current trend of hybrid web/desktop apps continues, expect to see RIA (rich internet apps) continue to increase in use and functionality. Adobe’s AIR platform (Adobe Integrated Runtime) is one of the leaders, along with Microsoft with its Windows Presentation Foundation. Also in the mix is Laszlo with its open source OpenLaszlo platform and there are several other startups offering RIA platforms. Let’s not forget also that Ajax is generally considered to be an RIA – it remains to be seen though how long Ajax lasts, or whether there will be a ‘2.0’.
As Ryan Stewart wrote for Read/WriteWeb back in April 2006 (well before he joined Adobe), “Rich Internet Apps allow sophisticated effects and transitions that are important in keeping the user engaged. This means developers will be able to take the amazing changes in the Web for granted and start focusing on a flawless experience for the users. It is going to be an exciting time for anyone involved in building the new Web, because the interfaces are finally catching up with the content.”
The past year has proven Ryan right, with Adobe and Microsoft duking it out with RIA technologies. And there’s a lot more innovation to happen yet, so in 10 years time I can’t wait to see what the lay of the RIA land is!
9. International Web
As of 2007, the US is still the major market in the Web. But in 10 years time, things might be very different. China is often touted as a growth market, but other countries with big populations will also grow – India and African nations for example.
For most web 2.0 apps and websites (R/WW included), the US market makes up over 50% of their users. Indeed, comScore reported in November 2006 that 3/4 of traffic to top websites is international. comScore said that 14 of the top 25 US Web properties now attract more visitors from outside the US than from within. That includes the top 5 US properties – Yahoo! Sites, Time Warner Network, Microsoft, Google Sites, and eBay.
However, it is still early days and the revenues are not big in international markets at this point. In 10 years time, revenue will probably be flowing from the International Web.
Personalization has been a strong theme in 2007, particularly with Google. Indeed Read/WriteWeb did a feature week on Personalizing Google. But you can see this trend play out among a lot of web 2.0 startups and companies – from last.fm to MyStrands to Yahoo homepage and more.
What can we expect over the next decade? Recently we asked Sep Kamvar, Lead Software Engineer for Personalization at Google, whether there will be a ‘Personal PageRank’ system in the future. He replied:
“We have various levels of personalization. For those who are signed up for Web History, we have the deepest personalization, but even for those who are not signed up for Web History, we personalize your results based on what country you are searching from. As we move forward, personalization will continue to be a gradient; the more you share with Google, the more tailored your results will be.”
If nothing else, it’ll be fascinating to track how Google uses personalization over the coming years – and how it deals with the privacy issues.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post, so tell us know what you think of our predictions. What other Web trends do you forsee over the next decade?
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