Christian Montoya

Web 3.0 I$ About Money

I have to extend a huge thanks to Tim O'Reilly for weighing in on the recent hype generated by some business heads around the term "web 3.0" in their attempt to start the next meme and subsequently take credit for it. You can read his entire rundown here: Today's Web 3.0 Nonsense Blogstorm. I won't bother quoting any of it since you really need to just read the whole thing.

The first time I heard anyone mention the term "Web 3.0" was when Jeffrey Zeldman schooled all the amateurs (including myself) with his article at A List Apart. At the time I considered it the most important article yet for the whole web industry and I still haven't found many others that compare. If you haven't read it, you should go back and do so. I'll wait.

What bothers me about the latest hype, backlash, and level-headed discussion over this (insipid) label and whatever it may try to define is simply this: everyone is trying to shoehorn this term onto some idea of what the future holds for the web, and regardless of what that idea may be, it always has something to do with whatever company or venture that person is currently involved in. Don't believe me?

Nova Spivack thinks web 3.0 will be "the Semantic Web or what we call it, 'the Intelligent Web.'" His company, Radar Networks, is pioneering it, or at least he claims.

Jason Calacanis says, "Web 3.0 is defined as the creation of high-quality content and services produced by gifted individuals using Web 2.0 technology as an enabling platform." He calls this his "official definition." It conveniently fits his venture, Mahalo.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt says web 3.0 will be "applications which are pieced together – relatively small, the data is in the cloud, can run on any device (PC or mobile), very fast, very customizable, and distributed virally (social networks, email, etc)." This is a very nice way to look at Google's suite of web apps, which can share data, be accessed from any device, etc. etc.

Tim Berners-Lee says, "I think maybe when you've got an overlay of scalable vector graphics – everything rippling and folding and looking misty – on Web 2.0 and access to a semantic Web integrated across a huge space of data, you'll have access to an unbelievable data resource." SVG is a W3C recommendation and the semantic web is a goal of other W3C recommendations (RDF, etc).

Jerry Yang, founder and chief of Yahoo!, says, "Web 2.0 is well documented and talked about. The power of the Net reached a critical mass, with capabilities that can be done on a network level. We are also seeing richer devices over last four years and richer ways of interacting with the network, not only in hardware like game consoles and mobile devices, but also in the software layer. You don't have to be a computer scientist to create a program. We are seeing that manifest in Web 2.0 and 3.0 will be a great extension of that, a true communal medium…the distinction between professional, semi-professional and consumers will get blurred, creating a network effect of business and applications." Yahoo! is a big player in the mobile devices arena, and more importantly, is a big player in the "average user as developer/mashup-creator" with their Pipes service.

Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix, says "Web 1.0 was dial-up, 50K average bandwidth, Web 2.0 is an average 1 megabit of bandwidth and Web 3.0 will be 10 megabits of bandwidth all the time, which will be the full video Web, and that will feel like Web 3.0." 10 megabits of bandwidth all the time means a good market for a video-download-rental service. Also notice the term "video Web."

Gary Hayes writes that web 3.0 will be "the real time collaborative web (3D, isometric or just 2D)," emphasizing details like 3D portals, avatar representation, and virtual worlds. He is "currently building and devising commercial and game-like services for virtual worlds, having recently produced and built both Australian Telstra and ABC Second Life presences in Second Life as Head of Virtual Worlds with the UK based Project Factory," plus some other details on his About page.

APC Magazine said Mozilla is working on web 3.0 in reference to their efforts towards "web apps that will run in your browser without an internet connection." This is Mozilla's big focus as competition with proprietary technologies such as AIR and Silverlight.

And Tim O'Reilly is condemning the whole mess because now that the term is tainted, he can't make a conference about it.

I've gone through the trouble of putting all these quotes in one place so that I can make one thing clear: nobody has any agreement on what web 3.0 actually means, unless it happens to be what they themselves are working on. Everyone is basically jumping at the perceived opportunity to capitalize on the strength of a meme by saying, "look here, web 3.0 is exactly what I am working on, and that is all it will be. I'm calling huge BS on every one of them (and probably burning a few bridges as I go).

As they did years ago with web 2.0 when Flock landed and Arrington was a rising star, nobody is actually addressing the real meat of what will define web 3.0 (or whatever we call it, doesn't matter). Google has always been a great tool but what made it real was the discovery that you can put ads on search results (and apply the same algorithms to an ad network, redefining advertising altogether). Blogging took off when people realized it was incredibly effective (and cheap) as a marketing tool and some individuals/companies made it their core business. YouTube became a workable model when companies took notice of the attention it was getting and started paying to attract that attention. MySpace was no big deal until the record industry saw that social interaction helped record sales and big media took interest in the user network. And now Facebook is the talk of the town because you can put little ads on applications and turn gift-giving and outlandish narcissism into a respectable CPM. Web 2.0 was not a revival of geeks thinking of new ways to use technology to do X or Y; they were always there, coding like monkeys and chatting over coffees and beers. Web 2.0 was a mass revival of business interest in the web, and it was a change that fed itself, as more business interest means more funds to support the geeks who code and chatter. After all, Web 1.0 was characterized by business interest that drove the "web as new commerce" model, and the bust that followed was a direct result of businesses, not geeks, realizing that they couldn't make quite as much money as they thought and bailing out. Now they have realized that they can make quite a lot of money, even if they still exaggerate.

So I'll say it again just as I said it before. Web 3.0 is about money. It hasn't even happened yet but that is what it will be about. It is the market value, not "coolness" or "usefulness," that decides which ideas will succeed or fail. If you still don't believe me, take a look at the failures. Skype was going to redefine the entire telephone industry by challenging the phone companies, but a failure to monetize is killing it. I'm sure you could think of more examples.

Looking at it from another angle, however, you could say that I'm really just stating the obvious and looking at it the wrong way; the money follows the intrinsic value instead of defining it. That may be true, but to convince me of that you have to convince me that every valuable idea has been profitable, and every profitable idea was valuable. I don't think that's true (by far).

So how can I accurately describe this whole dissertation visually? In my previous post I used sheep to demonstrate my point:


Web 1.0 was mostly benign, until it took off with the advent of e-commerce and the sheep-shearers were aggressively trying to attract the sheep, sometimes scaring them away with their overuse of shipping costs, spam, blinking text, and cookies. For the most part, sheep felt slighted and abused, and the shearers eventually gave up when they hadn't harvested enough wool. Web 2.0 was when the shearers came back with new ways of attracting sheep, though with the same intentions as in the web 1.0 days. The sheep, however, fell for these new methods and gave up their wool willingly, feeling entirely comfortable with their shearers and occasionally even Swedish. Of course, a lot of wool is never enough and web 3.0 will be marked by more advanced methods by which the shearers will be able to reach out and mine, scrape, and combine massive amounts of wool from multiple sheep-nodes in highly robust ways across multiple platforms, solidifying the wool-retrieval paradigm and laying down the foundation for distributed wool manipulation, making it possible for shearers to collaboratively network their shearing efforts and make the entire shearnet equally omnipresent and invisible. We won't really know it, however, until we see the flow of wool increase by orders of magnitude, and when that happens Tim will berate us for calling it web 3.0, so I've already done everyone a favor by suggesting a number of alternatives. Whatever we settle on, let's just be honest with each other and admit that we do it for the money. Or the wool. I confuse myself, but this illustration should help:

Web 3.0

Disclaimer: I am hoping you will give me some counter-credibility here, since I'm currently very low on both wool & methods for acquiring it :)

Thank you for reading • Published on October 8th, 2007 • Please take a moment to share this with your friends