How Web 3.0 Will Work

By: Jonathan Strickland  | 
Will we view future versions of the Web through devices like this tiny head-mounted display? See more computer pictures.
Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Web 3.0, also known as the Semantic Web, aims to create a more intelligent and intuitive internet where information is more interconnected and easily processed by machines.
  • It will enable browsers to act like personal assistants, understanding complex user intents and delivering more accurate and personalized online experiences.
  • This evolution involves technologies that semantically link information, allowing for automated reasoning and better data integration across the web.

You've decided to go see a movie and grab a bite to eat afterward. You're in the mood for a comedy and some incredibly spicy Mexican food. Booting up your PC, you open a Web browser and head to Google to search for theater, movie and restaurant information. You need to know which movies are playing in the theaters near you, so you spend some time reading short descriptions of each film before making your choice. Also, you want to see which Mexican restaurants are close to each of these theaters. And, you may want to check for customer reviews for the restaurants. In total, you visit half a dozen Web sites before you're ready to head out the door.

Some Internet experts believe the next generation of the Web -- Web 3.0 -- will make tasks like your search for movies and food faster and easier. Instead of multiple searches, you might type a complex sentence or two in your Web 3.0 browser, and the Web will do the rest. In our example, you could type "I want to see a funny movie and then eat at a good Mexican restaurant. What are my options?" The Web 3.0 browser will analyze your response, search the Internet for all possible answers, and then organize the results for you.



That's not all. Many of these experts believe that the Web 3.0 browser will act like a personal assistant. As you search the Web, the browser learns what you are interested in. The more you use the Web, the more your browser learns about you and the less specific you'll need to be with your questions. Eventually you might be able to ask your browser open questions like "where should I go for lunch?" Your browser would consult its records of what you like and dislike, take into account your current location and then suggest a list of restaurants.

To und­erstand where the Web is going, we need to take a quick look at where it's been. Keep reading for a quick lesson on the evolution of the Web.


The Road to Web 3.0

YouTube is an example of a Web 2.0 site
screenshot by HowStuffWorks

Out of all the Internet buzzwords and jargon that have made the transition to the public consciousness, "Web 2.0" might be the best known. Even though a lot of people have heard about it, not many have any idea what Web 2.0 means. Some people claim that the term itself is nothing more than a marketing ploy designed to convince venture capitalists to invest millions of dollars into Web sites. It's true that when Dale Dougherty of O'Reilly Media came up with the term, there was no clear definition. There wasn't even any agreement about if there was a Web 1.0.

Other people insist that Web 2.0 is a reality. In brief, the characteristics of Web 2.0 include:


  • The ability for visitors to make changes to Web pages: Amazon allows visitors to post product reviews. Using an online form, a visitor can add information to Amazon's pages that future visitors will be able to read.
  • Using Web pages to link people to other users: Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are popular in part because they make it easy for users to find each other and keep in touch.
  • Fast and efficient ways to share content:YouTube is the perfect example. A YouTube member can create a video and upload it to the site for others to watch in less than an hour.
  • New ways to get information: Today, Internet surfers can subscribe to a Web page's Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds and receive notifications of that Web page's updates as long as they maintain an Internet connection.
  • Expanding access to the Internet beyond the computer: Many people access the Internet through devices like cell phones or video game consoles; before long, some experts expect that consumers will access the Internet through television sets and other devices.

Think of Web 1.0 as a library. You can use it as a source of information, but you can't contribute to or change the information in any way. Web 2.0 is more like a big group of friends and acquaintances. You can still use it to receive information, but you also contribute to the conversation and make it a richer experience.

While there are still many people trying to get a grip on Web 2.0, others are already beginning to think about what comes next. What will Web 3.0 be like? How different will it be from the Web we use today? Will it be a revolutionary shift, or will it be so subtle that we won't even notice the difference?

What do Internet experts think the next generation of the World Wide Web will be like? Keep reading to find out.


Web 3.0 Basics

Planning a tropical getaway? Web 3.0 might help simplify your planning process.

Internet experts think Web 3.0 is going to be like having a personal assistant who knows practically everything about you and can access all the information on the Internet to answer any question. Many compare Web 3.0 to a giant database. While Web 2.0 uses the Internet to make connections between people, Web 3.0 will use the Internet to make connections with information. Some experts see Web 3.0 replacing the current Web while others believe it will exist as a separate network.

It's easier to get the concept with an example. Let's say that you're thinking about going on a vacation. You want to go someplace warm and tropical. You have set aside a budget of $3,000 for your trip. You want a nice place to stay, but you don't want it to take up too much of your budget. You also want a good deal on a flight.


With the Web technology currently available to you, you'd have to do a lot of research to find the best vacation options. You'd need to research potential destinations and decide which one is right for you. You might visit two or three discount travel sites and compare rates for flights and hotel rooms. You'd spend a lot of your time looking through results on various search engine results pages. The entire process could take several hours.

According to some Internet experts, with Web 3.0 you'll be able to sit back and let the Internet do all the work for you. You could use a search service and narrow the parameters of your search. The browser program then gathers, analyzes and presents the data to you in a way that makes comparison a snap. It can do this because Web 3.0 will be able to understand information on the Web.

Right now, when you use a Web search engine, the engine isn't able to really understand your search. It looks for Web pages that contain the keywords found in your search terms. The search engine can't tell if the Web page is actually relevant for your search. It can only tell that the keyword appears on the Web page. For example, if you searched for the term "Saturn," you'd end up with results for Web pages about the planet and others about the car manufacturer.

A Web 3.0 search engine could find not only the keywords in your search, but also interpret the context of your request. It would return relevant results and suggest other content related to your search terms. In our vacation example, if you typed "tropical vacation destinations under $3,000" as a search request, the Web 3.0 browser might include a list of fun activities or great restaurants related to the search results. It would treat the entire Internet as a massive database of information available for any query.

How might Web 3.0 do this? Read on to find out.


Web 3.0 Approaches

Web 3.0 will likely plug into your individual tastes and browsing habits.

You never know how future technology will eventually turn out. In the case of Web 3.0, most Internet experts agree about its general traits. They believe that Web 3.0 will provide users with richer and more relevant experiences. Many also believe that with Web 3.0, every user will have a unique Internet profile based on that user's browsing history. Web 3.0 will use this profile to tailor the browsing experience to each individual. That means that if two different people each performed an Internet search with the same keywords using the same service, they'd receive different results determined by their individual profiles.

The technologies and software required for this kind of application aren't yet mature. Services like TiVO and Pandora provide individualized content based on user input, but they both rely on a trial-and-error approach that isn't as efficient as what the experts say Web 3.0 will be. More importantly, both TiVO and Pandora have a limited scope -- television shows and music, respectively -- whereas Web 3.0 will involve all the information on the Internet.


Some experts believe that the foundation for Web 3.0 will be application programming interfaces (APIs). An API is an interface designed to allow developers to create applications that take advantage of a certain set of resources. Many Web 2.0 sites include APIs that give programmers access to the sites' unique data and capabilities. For example, Facebook's API allows developers to create programs that use Facebook as a staging ground for games, quizzes, product reviews and more.

One Web 2.0 trend that could help the development of Web 3.0 is the mashup. A mashup is the combination of two or more applications into a single application. For example, a developer might combine a program that lets users review restaurants with Google Maps. The new mashup application could show not only restaurant reviews, but also map them out so that the user could see the restaurants' locations. Some Internet experts believe that creating mashups will be so easy in Web 3.0 that anyone will be able to do it.

Other experts think that Web 3.0 will start fresh. Instead of using HTML as the basic coding language, it will rely on some new -- and unnamed -- language. These experts suggest it might be easier to start from scratch rather than try to change the current Web. However, this version of Web 3.0 is so theoretical that it's practically impossible to say how it will work.

The man responsible for the World Wide Web has his own theory of what the future of the Web will be. He calls it the Semantic Web, and many Internet experts borrow heavily from his work when talking about Web 3.0. What exactly is the Semantic Web? Keep reading to find out.


Making a Semantic Web

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web
Catrina Genovese/Getty Images

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989. He created it as an interface for the Internet and a way for people to share information with one another. Berners-Lee disputes the existence of Web 2.0, calling it nothing more than meaningless jargon [source: Register]. Berners-Lee maintains that he intended the World Wide Web to do all the things that Web 2.0 is supposed to do.

Berners-Lee's vision of the future Web is similar to the concept of Web 3.0. It's called the Semantic Web. Right now, the Web's structure is geared for humans. It's easy for us to visit a Web page and understand what it's all about. Computers can't do that. A search engine might be able to scan for keywords, but it can't understand how those keywords are used in the context of the page.


With the Semantic Web, computers will scan and interpret information on Web pages using software agents. These software agents will be programs that crawl through the Web, searching for relevant information. They'll be able to do that because the Semantic Web will have collections of information called ontologies. In terms of the Internet, an ontology is a file that defines the relationships among a group of terms. For example, the term "cousin" refers to the familial relationship between two people who share one set of grandparents. A Semantic Web ontology might define each familial role like this:

  • Grandparent: A direct ancestor two generations removed from the subject
  • Parent: A direct ancestor one generation removed from the subject
  • Brother or sister: Someone who shares the same parent as the subject
  • Nephew or niece: Child of the brother or sister of the subject
  • Aunt or uncle: Sister or brother to a parent of the subject
  • Cousin: child of an aunt or uncle of the subject

For the Semantic Web to be effective, ontologies have to be detailed and comprehensive. In Berners-Lee's concept, they would exist in the form of metadata. Metadata is information included in the code for Web pages that is invisible to humans, but readable by computers.

Constructing ontologies takes a lot of work. In fact, that's one of the big obstacles the Semantic Web faces. Will people be willing to put in the effort required to make comprehensive ontologies for their Web sites? Will they maintain them as the Web sites change? Critics suggest that the task of creating and maintaining such complex files is too much work for most people.

On the other hand, some people really enjoy labeling or tagging Web objects and information. Web tags categorize the tagged object or information. Several blogs include a tag option, making it easy to classify journal entries under specific topics. Photo sharing sites like Flickr allow users to tag pictures. Google even has turned it into a game: Google Image Labeler pits two people against each other in a labeling contest. Each player tries to create the largest number of relevant tags for a series of images. According to some experts, Web 3.0 will be able to search tags and labels and return the most relevant results back to the user. Perhaps Web 3.0 will combine Berners-Lee's concept of the Semantic Web with Web 2.0's tagging culture.

Even though Web 3.0 is more theory than reality, that hasn't stopped people from guessing what will come next. Keep reading to learn about the far-flung future of the Web.


Beyond Web 3.0

Paul Otellini, CEO and President of Intel, discusses the increasing importance of mobile devices on the Web at the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show.
David Paul Morris/Getty Images

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.


Frequently Asked Questions

What role do artificial intelligence and machine learning play in Web 3.0?
AI and machine learning are central to Web 3.0, enabling the web to understand and interpret data contextually, thus providing more tailored user experiences.
How will Web 3.0 impact data privacy and security?
Web 3.0 raises new challenges and opportunities for data privacy and security, necessitating advanced protections due to the increased interconnectivity and machine understanding of personal data.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Baker, Stephen. "Web 3.0." BusinessWeek. October 24, 2006.
  • Berners-Lee, Tim, Hendler, James and Lassila, Ora. "The Semantic Web." Scientific American. May, 2001.
  • Calacanis, Jason. "Web 3.0, the 'official' definition." October 3, 2007.
  • Carr, Nicholas. "Welcome Web 3.0!" Rough Type. November 11, 2006.
  • Clarke, Gavin. "Berners-Lee calls for Web 2.0 calm." The Register. August 30, 2006.
  • Iskold, Alex. "Web 3.0: When Web Sites Become Web Services." Read Write Web. March 19, 2007.
  • Markoff, John. "Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense." New York Times. November 12, 2006.
  • Metz, Cade. "Web 3.0." PC Magazine. March 14, 2007.,2704,2102852,00.asp
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  • Wainewright, Phil. "What to expect from Web 3.0." ZDNet. November 29, 2005.
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