Blog post

Don’t be Fooled. Web 3.0 Doesn’t Exist

By Anthony J. Bradley | April 28, 2009 | 6 Comments

Web 2.0

Unfortunately, the Web 3.0 propaganda machine is well underway (upcoming Web 3.0 conference). We knew it was inevitable. The powerful uptake of the Web 2.0 moniker made the lure of 3.0 irresistible. Watch as they try to make Web 3.0 appear out of thin air.

It is critical to remember that Web 2.0 was not a new release of the world wide web. It wasn’t even a prediction. Tim O’reilly observed that the web had evolved and he named it Web 2.0. Unfortunately, and probably unintentionally he created the eventual demand for Web 3.0 (I even had a client ask what I thought Web 4.0 would be).

As soon as the Web 2.0 term caught on several communities began competing for the Web 3.0 term (virtual worlds, ubiquitous computing, context-oriented web, agent-based web, personalized web, semantic web, etc.). The conference above is the semantic web community’s move at owning the Web 3.0 moniker. The semantic web technologies and concepts have been around since at least 2001 (pre-dating Web 2.0 by about 3 years). Maybe they think they can accelerate their agenda by capturing the Web 3.0 term. This is purely a marketing move.

A focus on Web 3.0 is destructive for several reasons.

  1. At this point we are stuck with the Web 2.0 term and we have gone to great pains to define it in a meaningful way. The Web 3.0 term takes mind share from important Web 2.0 work that needs to get done and makes it seem as though Web 2.0 is old (which certainly is far from the case). 
  2. The Web 3.0 term misleads organizations by implying that a new version of the web is upon us. It now will unproductively consume resources in defining and trying to understand a term for something that doesn’t exist. This inevitably will lead to mass confusion in the industry.
  3. It distracts organizations from exploring the many important ways the web is evolving and examining when and how those evolutions can deliver value to their organizations.

In our “Hype Cycle for Web and User Interaction Technologies, 2008” research (subscription or fee required) we cautioned against using the term Web 3.0 and focus on distinct evolving web capabilities.

Unfortunately for the semantic web proponents, and the rest of us, no one can claim ownership of Web 3.0. If Web 3.0 does materialize we won’t know it until it is already here.

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6 Comments

  • Anthony, interesting article, but we’re on diverging viewpoints here. If you check my numerous posts on my blog about this, you will see (www.web3beat.com). So, let me take it one by one (why do I have the feeling I’ve written and explained this a million times before?):

    1. “Web 3.0 Doesn’t Exist” – nor does “Web 2.0”, for that matter, nor does “cyberspace”, any other Internet memes, or any other abstract concepts for that matter. Without going too philosophical here, but let’s ask ourselves a Quine-ian question: what “does” exist? Any physical object does, but do any abstract concepts (whether marketing or pop culture originated)? That’s why this isn’t a good argument, to me.

    2. But let’s assume only “web 3.0” doesn’t exist, and the rest of the memes out there do exist: while this may be “purely a marketing move”, I don’t see what’s wrong with marketing? Please don’t tell me there is, because Gartner itself is functioning by pumping its own marketing hype machine. And I really haven’t seen a great technology and/or business built on it being successful without the need for marketing.

    3. Who is the “semantic web community”? Pray define more concretely. My hunch is that after a few attempts (e.g., only the old KR folks out of Bell Labs? maybe only the Time Berners Lee/W3C followers/sect? or perhaps both of the above put together? Or maybe a pretty successful company such as Zemanta, would they qualify too?). Point is: “semantic web community” per se “doesn’t exist”. “semantic web” itself doesn’t exist, but only semantic technologies.

    4. I believe there is a need for marketing of semantic technologies; I’ve written my arguments down before, here: http://www.semanticweb.com/insight/article.php/3753486/Where-is-the-Semantic-Web-Killer-App-Part-1.htm. I won’t repeat but bottom line: even though semantic technologies are good, have been in place before “Web 2.0” has existed as a meme, semantic applications in business success has escaped for just as long as “semantic technologies” have existed. Why? Because technologists aren’t marketers or business people. Which is why when one hears about “semantic technologies” eyes (audience, users, VC, etc) tend to get sleepy, boredom tends to set in. Because there is something underlying semantic technologies (data openness, interoperability, etc.) that goes beyond or differently than “Web 2.0” (which does exist): and that is the ability to decouple data from its containers (on the Internet, most likely web content). Is that a “web 2.0” thing? to a certain extent, but “Web 2.0”, SOA, etc. simply open up APIs to even be able to do any sort of processing and joining of disparate data. Only the beginning. And the process is fairly artisan-like, definitely not easy, because there are not abstracted layers from an individual API to another. So developers need to knit code that is too hard coded, rather than abstracted. The latter is more of a “semantic thing” than a “2.0” thing.

    5. Your arguments about “let’s not be distracted” etc. sounds very Fidel: pretty totalitarian. I wonder who decides what’s important and “we” should be focused on.

    6. What I am expecting typically from any such strong opinions (if they are to be more than opinions) are some validation of arguments, but unfortunately I don’t see them in your post. I like the opportunity to debate though.

  • Anthony Bradley says:

    Wow, looks like I need to break out Plato’s Republic here. In all your philosophical positioning you are losing a basic point that is pretty difficult to argue: Web 2.0 does exist as the current state of the Web (or at least when Tim O’reilly observed it) and Web 3.0 doesn’t yet exist since it is some future state of the web. Arguing against that is indeed philosophical. My point is that no one can claim Web 3.0 (i.e., the future) though many will try. Abstractions and concepts do indeed exist even though you can’t hold them in your hand (e.g., faith, hope, time, etc.) but that discussion is far out of the scope of this blog.

    Marketing is both good and bad in that it can inform or it can misinform. Part of my job is to help clients understand what is real and what is not. And yes, also what is important and what is not which I base on what my research tells me has impact and enterprise value. I’m not saying that semantic technologies are not important. I am saying that they are not Web 3.0. Not yet at least. Of course semantic web needs marketing but misinforming people that the semantic web is Web 3.0 is not the answer.

    Your philosophical positioning on memes and their existence (or lack thereof) proves my point that to focus on defining Web 3.0 is a distraction from what is currently real.

    “Who is the “semantic web community”? Pray define more concretely. ” If we avoid both the amorphous side of “what is anything really” and the overly specific (naming everyone in the semantic web community) it is pretty easy to define the community as “those with the desire and agenda to promote the advancement of the semantic web.” Hey, that was pretty easy. BTW, since you define yourself as a “Semantic/Intelligent Web nutcase” http://www.linkedin.com/in/dangrig that would qualify you as part of the community 🙂

    Just because you don’t like or recognize my arguments doesn’t mean they lack validity. However, you did give me the incentive to elaborate.

    Finally, I should point out to readers that you are the founder of a semantic web related company and have a vested interest in its marketing as Web 3.0.

  • I fully agree with Anthony. One of our nastiest pitfalls in the business technology area is terminology and hype, coupled with a competitive drive to be ahead of the others. It is almost ridiculous to see the version numbering fever now applied to abstract concepts, as if this numbering has an evolutionary meaning.
    Thanks for watching out, Anthony.

  • Richie says:

    Well, the time finally has come. With blockchain technologies we have web 3.0 finally here. So, what do you think now Anthony? 🙂

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l44z35vabvA

  • Anthony J. Bradley says:

    Well, technically this W3.0 was supposed to be the semantic web. This new w3.0 version is different. It is the “decentralized trusted web” powered by blockchain (distributed ledger) tech. We shall see if this one pans out. We have been hearing about how blockchain will change the world for almost 8 years now. We shall see. The promise is compelling. The reality is challenging.

  • Anthony J. Bradley says:

    BTW, I will point out that I was absolutely correct on the semantic web not being Web 3.0. I believe it is more likely that Web 3.0 will be the algorithm driven Web vs. a blockchain driven web.