John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly, founders of the Web 2.0 Conference, have coined a new term (and released a white paper) on what they believe is the next evolution of the internet – Web Squared (Web²).
The Web is no longer a collection of static pages of HTML that describe something in the world. Increasingly, the Web is the world – everything and everyone in the world casts an “information shadow,” an aura of data which, when captured and processed intelligently, offers extraordinary opportunity and mind bending implications. Web Squared is our way of exploring this phenomenon and giving it a name.
According to Battelle and O’Reilly, Web 2.0 + World = Web².
So far reaction to the idea of Web² has been mixed. It is obvious that Battelle and O’Reilly are trying to describe a transformation that would be difficult to define clearly this early in the process. Indeed, the paper closes with a call for examples that reflect the Web Squared theme. However, they do state that 2009 marks a pivotal year in the history of the web, and this is something I’m sure many would agree with.
Some of the main points of the white paper include;
Redefining collective intelligence: new sensory imput
The web is beginning to use both “taught” and “learned” responses to data, resulting in a “smarter” system that is more capable of responding to our real world needs
Now consider an even more current search application, the Google Mobile Application for the iPhone. The application detects the movement of the phone to your ear, and automatically goes into speech recognition mode. It uses its microphone to listen to your voice, and decodes what you are saying by referencing not only its speech recognition database and algorithms, but also the correlation to the most frequent search terms in its search database. The phone uses GPS or cell-tower triangulation to detect its location, and uses that information as well. A search for “pizza” returns the result you most likely want: the name, location, and contact information for the three nearest pizza restaurants. All of a sudden, we’re not using search via a keyboard and a stilted search grammar, we’re talking to and with the Web. It’s getting smart enough to understand some things (such as where we are) without us having to tell it explicitly. And that’s just the beginning.
Battelle and O’Reilly state that there is now a race to own the social graph and they call for cooperation between vendors to create the best possible data subsystems.
How the web learns: explicit vs. implicit meaning
The web will learn by turning what appears to be unstructured, implied metadata, into structured data using both people and technology.
In other cases, meaning is “taught” to the computer. That is, the application is given a mapping between one structured data set and another. For example, the association between street addresses and GPS coordinates is taught rather than learned. Both data sets are structured, but need a gateway to connect them. It’s also possible to give structure to what appears to be unstructured data by teaching an application how to recognize the connection between the two. For example, You R Here, an iPhone app, neatly combines these two approaches. You use your iPhone camera to take a photo of a map that contains details not found on generic mapping applications such as Google maps – say a trailhead map in a park, or another hiking map. Use the phone’s GPS to set your current location on the map. Walk a distance away, and set a second point. Now your iPhone can track your position on that custom map image as easily as it can on Google maps. Some of the most fundamental and useful services on the Web have been constructed in this way, by recognizing and then teaching the overlooked regularity of what at first appears to be unstructured data.
Web meet world: the “information shadow” and “internet of things”
The breakthroughs that we are beginning to experience on the web are the result of the fact that objects in the real world produce “information shadows”
For instance, a book has information shadows on Amazon, on Google Book Search, on Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing, on eBay and on BookMooch, on Twitter, and in a thousand blogs. A song has information shadows on iTunes, on Amazon, on Rhapsody, on MySpace, or Facebook. A person has information shadows in a host of emails, instant messages, phone calls, tweets, blog postings, photographs, videos, and government documents. A product on the supermarket shelf, a car on a dealer’s lot, a pallet of newly mined boron sitting on a loading dock, a storefront on a small town’s main street — all have information shadows now.
The existence of these information shadows will lead us to an “Internet of things” without the need for each object to have a unique identifier.
What the Web 2.0 sensibility tells us is that we’ll get to the Internet of Things via a hodgepodge of sensor data contributing, bottom-up, to machine-learning applications that gradually make more and more sense of the data that is handed to them. A bottle of wine on your supermarket shelf (or any other object) needn’t have an RFID tag to join the “Internet of Things,” it simply needs you to take a picture of its label. Your mobile phone, image recognition, search, and the sentient web will do the rest. We don’t have to wait until each item in the supermarket has a unique machine-readable ID. Instead, we can make do with bar codes, tags on photos, and other “hacks” that are simply ways of brute-forcing identity out of reality.
The rise of real time: the collective mind
The rise of real time with applications such as Twitter, means that there is the opportunity to harness it to give real time response in areas such as product development, customer service, and resource allocation and it also allows us to create shared context and shared identity.
Real-time search encourages real-time response. Retweeted “information cascades” spread breaking news across Twitter in moments, making it the earliest source for many people to learn about what’s just happened. And again, this is just the beginning. With services like Twitter and Facebook’s status updates, a new data source has been added to the Web – realtime indications of what is on our collective mind.
Reading the paper I found Battelle and O’Reilly’s analogy of the web as a newborn who is now beginning to experience the world to be slightly disturbing, and the final paragraphs uninspired when they call for us to put the power of the web to work in solving the worlds problems (which are never defined). However, I’m looking forward to more responses to Battelle and O’Reilly’s concept as the conference draws closer and hope to see librarians begin to put some thought into what Web Squared will mean for us.