Whatever we call the next generation of the Web, what will come after it? Theories range from conservative predictions to guesses that sound more like science fiction films.
Here are just a few:
- According to technology expert and entrepreneur Nova Spivack, the development of the Web moves in 10-year cycles. In the Web's first decade, most of the development focused on the back end, or infrastructure, of the Web. Programmers created the protocols and code languages we use to make Web pages. In the second decade, focus shifted to the front end and the era of Web 2.0 began. Now people use Web pages as platforms for other applications. They also create mashups and experiment with ways to make Web experiences more interactive. We're at the end of the Web 2.0 cycle now. The next cycle will be Web 3.0, and the focus will shift back to the back end. Programmers will refine the Internet's infrastructure to support the advanced capabilities of Web 3.0 browsers. Once that phase ends, we'll enter the era of Web 4.0. Focus will return to the front end, and we'll see thousands of new programs that use Web 3.0 as a foundation [source: Nova Spivack].
- The Web will evolve into a three-dimensional environment. Rather than a Web 3.0, we'll see a Web 3D. Combining virtual reality elements with the persistent online worlds of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs), the Web could become a digital landscape that incorporates the illusion of depth. You'd navigate the Web either from a first-person perspective or through a digital representation of yourself called an avatar (to learn more about an avatar's perspective, read How the Avatar Machine Works).
- The Web will build on developments in distributed computing and lead to true artificial intelligence. In distributed computing, several computers tackle a large processing job. Each computer handles a small part of the overall task. Some people believe the Web will be able to think by distributing the workload across thousands of computers and referencing deep ontologies. The Web will become a giant brain capable of analyzing data and extrapolating new ideas based off of that information.
- The Web will extend far beyond computers and cell phones. Everything from watches to television sets to clothing will connect to the Internet. Users will have a constant connection to the Web, and vice versa. Each user's software agent will learn more about its respective user by electronically observing his or her activities. This might lead to debates about the balance between individual privacy and the benefit of having a personalized Web browsing experience.
- The Web will merge with other forms of entertainment until all distinctions between the forms of media are lost. Radio programs, television shows and feature films will rely on the Web as a delivery system.
It's too early to tell which (if any) of these future versions of the Web will come true. It may be that the real future of the Web is even more extravagant than the most extreme predictions. We can only hope that by the time the future of the Web gets here, we can all agree on what to call it.
To learn more about Web 3.0 and other topics, take a gander at the links on the next page.